By Clifford Webb Midland Industrial Correspondent
British Leyland’s simmering piecework problem boiled over yesterday. A strike by 2,000 workers stopped Jaguar car production at Coventry and shop stewards at Austin-Morris, Longbridge, rejected the alternative flat day rate system of working after four months’ negotiation with management.
The two events emphasized British Leyland’s dilemma. It has chosen to tackle the controversial switch from piecework to a flat rate on a plant-by-plant basis to avoid confrontations on too many fronts simultaneously. No approach had been made to the unions at Jaguar to change over. The present strike. which is costing the company £450,000 worth of production a day, is over the management’s refusal to grant “considerable increases in piecework prices “.
It is typical of the type of stoppage BLMC is determined to end by removing piecework. At Longbridge, the biggest car plant in the group, with 24,000 employees, it has run into serious trouble with moves to introduce the new system. It has steadfastly refused to consider any wage increases at the plant which are tied to piecework.
Four months ago the powerful works committee agreed to open negotiations on the replacement of piecework and this was hailed as a breakthrough. Both sides have maintained tight security on the progress of the talks, and this was interpreted as an indication of goodwill, so yesterday’s news came as a shock. But the rejection seems to have been close. Reliable sources say it was carried by a majority of six on a committee of 80 members. Last night a British Leyland spokesman said the talks had not been terminated
“Most of the draft proposals have not yet been discussed “, he said.
“Until each item has been discussed it is untrue to suggest that negotiations have been terminated.”
It is understood the company offered a flat day rate of £44 a week rising to £49 over a two year period. This compares with the present interim payment of £38 introduced to permit talks to take place. Jaguar said last night the strike by 2,000 assembly and trim shop workers at its Brown’s Lane factory had led to most of the 2,500 remaining employees being laid off. A spokesman added: “We have not made an offer but we are willing to negotiate at any time.”
Union-management talks began yesterday at Austin-Morris engine works. Coventry, into the men’s refusal to accept pay increases tied to the replacement of piecework. A strike by 2,500 was called off last Thursday to allow the talks to take place.