By Martin Adeney
Storm clouds in the British motor Industry continued to gather yesterday when British Leyland, whose production has so far remained remarkably buoyant, announced it was putting 11,000 men at its Longbridge car plant on short time next month.
The short-term crisis for Jaguar and Mini production also threatened Leyland when 600 toolmakers at its Castle Bromwich works, which produces car bodies for the Jaguar works at Coventry and the Longbridge car plant, voted to continue their strike. They are not due to meet again for a week.
Leyland, in spite of its problems over cash flow and its long-term uncertainties, has so far avoided announcing extensive short-term working like its American-owned competitors.
The decision to put 11,000 men at Longbridge on to working one shift a week less in assembly – is still much less drastic than the three or four day weeks announced or in operation at Chrysler, Ford, and Vauxhall.
The company has taken the decision in part because of union pressure to safeguard employment of 800 workers who would have been without work after the end of BLMC 1800 production. The company says the men will how be absorbed, and as a result there will be reduced working for 8,000 others. The other 3,000 going on to short time suffer because of a company decision to reduce engine assembly to economise on stocks and improve its cash position. BLMC insisted yesterday that production of Mini’s and Allegros at Longbridge would be maintained at present levels.
Geoffrey Whiteley writes: British Leyland said yesterday it was afraid that if it agreed to the claim by 250 engine tuners at its Cowley plant for regrading as skilled workers, it would quickly be “swamped” by similar demands from other groups of workers, a development the factory’s wages structure. This fear, which is tbe main reason why BLMC has consistently resisted the tuners claim—was explained by the company’s director of labour relations, Mr J.P. Lowry, when the independent panel of inquiry into the dispute held an open session In London.
It appeared to indicate that the dispute is as far as ever from settlement in spite of exhaustive imvestigations over the past two weeks by the independent panel, which was set up by the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service. The two unions which represent the tuners the engineers and the transport workers reiterated their claim at yesterdays hearing that the tuners should be given skilled status. Mr Lowry told the panel that until 1971 the Cowley plant had operated under the old piece-work ‘system with its hundreds of different wage rates.
This had been replaced by a flat rate payment system in which the tuners were classified as production workers. He said the company could not believe that the tuners were merely seeking improved status and had no intention of using a higher grading to seek more pay.
“We believe that the potential repercussions would be extremely severe,” he said. British Leyland also based Its refusal on the merits of the job, which it did not believe justified a skilled grading, and on the fact that a common rate of pay had been accepted by all workers in the plant.