By R. W. Shakespeare
Transport and General Workers’ Union members at British Leyland’s Cowley, Oxford, plant yesterday. rejected the company’s proposals for ending the piecework system and substituting a six-grade pay structure, of fixed hourly rates, with a top grade, of £1 an hour.
The management will resume negotiations with shop floor representatives today. As the T.G.W.U. is the biggest union involved at the body plant. British Leyland faces the prospect of taking its proposals for a new pay structure through the formal engineering industry disputes procedure. Workers at the nearby Austin-Morris car assembly plant have decided, provisionally, to accept the principle of fixed hourly payments. However, there can be no prospect of getting the new medium-range car into full production until the pay question is resolved at both the assembly and body plants.
In spite of the encouraging response from assembly line workers, British Leyland’s campaign to end the piecework system, which it blames for most of its labour troubles, can in the end only be settled in negotiation with national union officials. The management has tried to tackle the question on a plant-by-plant basis, starting with Cowley. It is in the process of putting similar pay proposals to 25,000 workers at its Austin-Morris factories in the Midlands.
The engineering unions will not want any pay agreement concluded until their national leaders have discussed what the abolition of piecework will entail. Under the disputes procedure national officers can only get into the talks when they reach the final stages of the machinery, the central conference held each month in York.
It seems likely that both the Cowley proposals and those for the Midlands plants will end up there. If national union leaders could be won over to the principle of ending piece-work the deals could go back for plant level negotiations with a reasonable hope of settlements. Yesterday’s decision by the Cowley T.G.W.U. branch makes it certain that there will be a long hard battle before any final agreements are reached.
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