By R. W. Shakespeare
British Leyland is facing its most serious labour relations crisis for several years in the key bus and truck division factories in Lancashire. At a mass meeting. yesterday the 8,500 workers from the five factories at Leyland and Chorley voted overwhelmingly to continue the all-out strike, which began a week ago.
They. also decided not to meet again until July 17, two days before the factories are due to shut down for the summer holidays. British Leyland faces the prospect of production being at a standstill for at least a month. The trouble in the bus and truck division centres on management proposals to abolish piecework and bring in a new structure of standard day rates, similar to those introduced in BLMC car plants.
Shop floor negotiators have rejected the management’s offer of settlement terms for making the change. The trouble came to a head last week over the use of industrial engineers to carry out shop floor studies and job evaluation. At yesterday’s meeting, Mr Len Brindle, works convener for the five factories, said that a pre-requisite of a return to work must be a seven per cent across the board pay increase which he claimed all workers were entitled to from May 1 under Phase Three.
He said that only when this increase was conceded would the negotiators be prepared to enter into more discussions with the management about changes in the wages, structure. He implied that even then the changes should not become operative until January of next year. The management has’ offered a new graded wage structure which would guarantee earnings ranging from just over £30 for a 40-hour week for the lowest paid in the factories up to more’ than £50 for skilled toolmakers. They have also offered a lump sum payment of £104 to ‘each worker.
The dispute has been argued through the new British Leyland disputes procedure which has now been exhausted. Another attempt at management/ union negotiations earlier this week ended in deadlock. Last night a British Leyland management spokesman said that the decision to continue the strike’ could only be harmful to everyone concerned. The company believed that given good will on both sides an agreement could be reached.
The voting at yesterday’s meeting made it clear that there is solid support among the workers for the stand taken by their shop stewards. Any hopes of a settlement being negotiated before the next mass meeting is held now appear to hang on an approach by the company to national officials of the unions.