Archive : Car workers kept in the dark

By Roger Cowe

Austin Rover workers believe they are kept in the dark most of the time, according to an opinion survey of 2,500 workers published yesterday. The survey, carried out in May by PA management consultants in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society, aimed to find out what workers thought about their jobs , conditions , management and communications. A company spokesman said it was part of the effort to improve employee-management relationships.

” Until we have a better idea of what employees think we are unable to move forward on improving relationships,” he said, denying that the survey was part of the company’s approach of going over the unions heads on key issues. Mr Mick Murphy, national secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union automotive section , said he welcomed any attempt by management to find out what made the labour force tick, but he expressed scepticism about the nature of the questions and the presentation of the the results depict Austin Rover as a reasonable employer but still with management and communications problems.

Three- quarters of those questioned felt they were told about company policy too late, two-thirds said senior managers did not know what employees thought and less than a third felt communication was effective. On the other hand nearly three- quarters supported senior management policy. Workers had mixed views about their managers. Just over half felt their immediate boss was effective, but opinions were almost equally divided on site managers.

Many employees felt their bosses only gave out bad news and branded anyone who spoke out as a trouble-maker. Most encouraging for Austin Rover is the almost unanimous agreement that quality is “extremely important”. Only 2 per cent disagreed. Suggesting there is still some way to go in putting that concern into practice, however, 13 per cent said they would not tell a friend to buy an Austin Rover car. In his comment to employees on the survey Mr Andrew Barr, operations managing director, acknowledges that employees have felt left in the dark.

” We have to accept ,” he writes , ” that the wide-ranging changes that have taken place in the company have probably led to the belief that less account was being taken of employees views than would have been the case in an ideal world.”

Mr Barr promises that attempts to improve communications and employee involvement will be stepped up and working conditions will be improved.

Rover Group chairman Mr Graham Day emphasised yesterday the difficulty the company faces in being a medium-sized general producer. Speaking to West Midlands businessmen he said Austin Rover was not big enough to compete head on against the volume producers , nor was it small enough to exploit a specialist market niche. He blamed the company’spast reputation for preventing it finding an appropriate niche.

Keith Adams

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