By Paul Hoyland and Simon Beavis
A storeman , whose dismissal for allegedly using a photocopier is costing Jaguar £5 million a day in lost production , said yesterday he would accept the car company’s offer of early retirement if the terms were favourable. Mr Tommy Wheeler , a senior shop steward , aged 63, said: “I would take a pay-off if the money was right. I don’t think there is any hope that I will get my job back.”
Nearly 5,000 workers were laid off at Jaguar ‘s three plants on Wednesday after 110 storemen walked out in protest at the sacking of Mr Wheeler at the Brown ‘s Lane plant in Coventry. He was said to have been photocopying a newsletter from Mr Dave Nellist, the local Labour MP, on stress at work , which included references to Jaguar workers suffering heart attacks.
Yesterday, Mr John Wakeham, Leader of the Commons , refused a request from Mr Nellist for a debate on the dispute, describing it as “inappropriate”. Mr Nellist and 100 fellow Labour MPs have signed an early day motion condemning the Jaguar management. The motion questions whether Mr Wheeler had been sacked for copying a newsletter from the MP which contained allegations that in six weeks before last Christmas 17 shopfloor workers at Brown’s Lane had died of strokes or stress-induced illnesses.
It also asks whether the dispute has been engineered by the company to ease cashflow by a shutdown in production and non-payment of wages. The company said he had made about 50 copies without permission but they had not seen the material he was copying. Last week Mr Wheeler lost an appeal against dismissal. Jaguar said that after being approached by the Transport and General Workers Union it had decided to offer Mr Wheeler early retirement , but it was not prepared to reconsider his dismissal.
“The offer is to pay his pension up to normal retirement , plus one week’s pay for each of his 11 years ‘ service,” said a spokesman. The assembly workers have been laid off until Monday when the storemen are expected to return to work .
Mr Wheeler said: “I only have 18 months to go until retirement and it is costing me nearly £20,000 in lost wages and pension. If the company comes up with a pay-off along those lines I would take it for the sake of the lads, who are suffering hardships to support me. But I won’t take a few quid a week. If the money isn’t right, I will consider an industrial tribunal. “