By Edward Townsend
A programme of lay-offs and redundancies throughout BL car and component factories begins today and will involve about 21,000 workers, almost 18 per cent of the workforce, in the coming weeks. The action has been forced upon BL by the sharp decline in its market share in January and the glut of unsold cars in dealers’ showrooms. It is estimated that stocks of BL cars around the country are now sufficient to meet 16 weeks’ demand, against a normal stocking level of 10 weeks.
Today, nearly 13,000 workers will be laid off and 6,500 put on short working time. The peak of the lay-offs will be reached in the first week of March when 14,500 will be idle and 6,900 on short time. The combined total will fall to about 9,000 in the last week of the month.
BL’s main aim is to reduce output of Marina, Maxi, Dolomite, Princess and Rover cars. The company said there were an estimated 80,000 vehicles lying unsold at its factories and showrooms. More layoffs will occur today at the Pressed Steel Fisher plant at Speke, Merseyside, bringing the total without work there to 380, more than a quarter of the workforce. The factory makes bodies for the Dolomite model, production of which is halted at the Canley plant In Coventry. There could be further layoffs if demand for a particular model did not increase, a Leyland spokesman said yesterday. “But we are not thinking along those lines at the moment.”
Uncertainty over the impact of the dismissal of Mr Derek Robinson, the Longbridge union convenor, was now behind them, the spokesman said, but agreement on a new wage deal was still to be achieved and a number of other problems had to be resolved. News of the layoffs has angered trade union officials who fear that the company will announce soon even more redundancies than the 25,000 which Leyland claims are necessary as part of the company’s recovery plan. Under this plan, backed by the Government which is injecting £300m into the company this year, 13 BL plants will be shut; either fully or partly.
BL’s market share slumped to a record low level of 15 per cent in January. It climbed back to about 18 per cent in the first two
weeks of this month and the company is hoping for 20 per cent of the market in March. The £2m “Buy British” campaign, which got off to a slow start in January, should improve sales in the latter part of this month. BL said March was considered the key month in the campaign.