Edwardes attack on record of Longbridge conyener ‘523 disputes and 62,000 cars lost in the 33 months Mr Robinson held office’
By Edward Townsend.
Sir Michael Edwardes, chairman of British Leyland said last night that disputes at its Longbridge plant increased during the time Mr Derek- Robinson, the union convener dismissed in November, was working there. Sir Michael said. that in the two years nine months that Mr Robinson held office at the Birmingham factory there were 523 disputes and the company lost production of 62,000 cars and 113,000 engines.
During the period the previous convener, Mr Dick Etheridge, was in office there had been strikes and disputes but nothing like those that occurred “after he left and this man took over”
During Mr Robinson’s term of office man hours lost increased by 87 per cent, compared with the time Mr Etheridge was convener. On only 4 per cent of working days was there no dispute or work sanction . Since Mr Robinson’s dismissal the proportion of dispute free days had risen to 89 per cent, Sir Michael said on the BBC television programme “Platform One”. Mr Robinson was dismissed by the company for his part in the publication of a booklet attacking British Leyland’s recovery plan.
A three man, inquiry by the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers recently finished taking evidence in the case and the findings are being studied by the union’s national executive. Sir Michael said that the dismissal decision had not been taken lightly and had been discussed by the main BL board. It had been thought about so much that “we would need some remarkable evidence from the union inquiry to make us change our minds”.
Turning to the ballot being held among BL’s 90,000 manual workers on the company’s 5 per cent pay and conditions package, the chairman gave a warning that endorsement of the unions’ rejection would be “a mandate to strike ” and put at risk tens of thousands of jobs.
The ballot is being conducted for the unions by the Electoral Reform Society and the result is expected on February 12. Workers are being asked whether they support rejection of the offer. Sir Michael said that in the “unlikely event” of a “yes ” vote BL’s current plans would have to be reviewed and there could be further huge job losses. Changes in work practices and attitudes were needed and he appealed to all workers in BL Cars to vote against the union recommendation “because a ‘yes’ vote means a strike “.
The £300m of state-aid recently given to BL was “on the back” of the new corporate plan which had been accepted by 87 per cent of the workers in the company’s own ballot held in November. Sir Michael said earlier that there was no more cash available to increase the pay offer.
“The point is we are not making a profit and we cannot give more away in wages than we have earned.” He added that the pay offer would lead to some erosion of living standards for BL workers. “but there will be very much more if this industry fails”.
The steel strike would also have a growing impact on the company within the next four weeks. There would be less money available and the company would be in an even worse position to change the wages offer. Sir Michael said that the introduction of car import, tariffs or quotas would be a defeat. “We have got to save BL now. We have got to get the final tranche of industrial relations reforms through.”
Mr Robinson was not available for comment at his home last night.