By Clifford Webb
British Leyland is expected to offer early retirement or voluntary redundancy to workers throughout the group within the next week or so in an attempt to speed the reduction of its 175,000-strong labour force.
Union reaction has already been sounded at national and local level. Time is running out. It is now over a month since Mr Pat Lowry, the corporation’s director of industrial relations, told union leaders that the sharp fall in world demand for cars made it imperative that the labour force should be cut in line with reduced production forecasts. Most observers believe that the position will be critical by September or October at the latest.
Mr John Barber, BLMC’s deputy chairman and managing director, has said that the world’s motor industry faces three of the toughest years in its history and that it will be 1978 before car sales begin to show growth again. Some categories of workers at Longbridge are already being offered retirement at 63 instead of 65.
Also the company has said it is looking for a 10 per cent cut in staff at Cowley and Abingdon. About 100 workers walked out at Longbridge yesterday claiming that management was attempting to force them to leave the company by moving them from highly paid assembly line work to poorer paid jobs. They suggested this was being done to avoid making redundancy payments. Pickets were mounted at several gates to stop the movement of components into the plant and the delivery of finished cars.
A company spokesman said last night: “We are exploring every avenue to avoid compulsory redundancy and one of the ways is by redeploying labour wherever possible. We stopped recruitment several months ago and this has made some re-arrangement of production schedules necessary. The men who walked out at Longbridge have now returned to allow discussions to take place.”