By GEOFFREY WHITELEY, Labour Staff
The troubles at British Leyland’s car plant at Cowley, Oxford , where the management had threatened to send employees home unless they worked harder , were steered away from confrontation and back into negotiation yesterday.The plant management said, after a day of tension and strike threats, that no one had been sent home. Talks about production problems are to continue, with union officials invited to discussions at Cowley on Friday.
British Leyland ‘s other labour troubles at its car-body factory at Castle Bromwich , Birmingham , also eased. The 230 strikers , who walked outmore than a week ago in a dispute over rest periods , agreed to go back to allow talks to reopen. The strikers , and 4,050 other workers laid off because of the dispute , will be back today. The strike stopped production of Jaguar cars at Leyland’ s Coventry factory and reduced the output of the Mini range at the Longbridge assembly plant in Birmingham. The production of cars with a showroom value of about £3 millions was held up.
At Cowley, the problems of production performance are not over, but had improved after the weekend crisis when shop-floor leaders reacted sharply to a management ultimatum. This said that output was falling and that unless the North works at Cowley , which makes the Princess and Maxi ranges , produced cars at the rate of 28.5 an hour , workers would be sent home and the plant closed. The first hour’s work yesterday was believed to have produced at least 29 completed cars. Figures for the next three hours are thought to have been 21, 26, and 16, with a sudden shortage of materials causing the lowest figure. After lunch , the hourly ” score ” was 20, 25, 28, and 19, giving a day ‘s total of 184, or 44 short of the management’ s target. During the day, however , attempts were made to take some heat out of the situation with informal talks. British Leyland said these had resulted in agreement to hold a meeting on Friday at which local trades union officials would be present.
A Leyland spokesman said: “Some progress has been made which could result in an improvement in performance. While this is at an early stage, we feel time must be given for these initiatives to work. We are continuing to watch the situation carefully.”
The talks on Friday could give management and unions the opportunity to get to grips with the much needed overhaul of job classifications and wage structures at Cowley. The engine tuners dispute earlier this year, over a demand for craft status , has been followed by an overtime ban by two other groups (testers and inspectors) in the final production stages. The ban , plus a high percentage of ” unsatisfactory ” vehicles needing attention , have slowed Cowley’s performance to the stage where it is not producing fast enough to meet orders. Stocks are virtually exhausted because of the success of the sales campaign in September.