Shock tactics employed by British Leyland to end the controversial piecework system at their big Austin Morris, Cowley, car plant, brought partial victory for the company last night. Some 92 per cent of the men on the final assembly line of the new Morris car, code named ADO28. accepted the company’s offer of £1 an hour based on measured day work.
But 160 of their colleagues producing bodies for the model in an adjoining plant rejected the offer and insisted on working at the temporary rate of 12s. 3d. an hour which has been in force while they tried to negotiate piecework rates. Their refusal put the company in a difficult position. In forcing the showdown management had told all 720 men employed on the new car that, as from starting time yesterday, the new pay system would be operated and men refusing to do so would be put into a transitional labour pool.
But when the body workers returned from a mass meeting and refused to operate the new offer they were in fact permitted to carry out normal working. Management’s attitude was that as the great majority of workers on the new car were prepared to operate without piecework it was not prepared to take “precipitate action on the remainder at this stage”.
There was confusion about the outcome of a mass meeting of 2,500 assembly workers which led to a company statement that 92 per cent of the men had accepted the company’s offer and work had begun on the new model. A meeting later of about 3,000 body workers voted by a large majority, however, to reject the offer and to return to work under existing terms only. Mr David Buckle. Oxford district secretary of the transport workers’ union, said after the meeting he was horrified by the company’s decision to send the letter setting out the offer to his members without giving him a copy.
A spokesman for British Leyland said late last night that the 170 night shift workers at the Cowley assembly plant had indicated their acceptance of the management’s proposals and were at work.
Work was halted on Toledo car assembly and on Triumph 1500 bodies at Speke, Liverpool, yesterday, after a strike which resulted in 1,500 workers being laid off. The 90 men who walked out have called off their action, but will not return to work until Monday.