By Donald Macintyre Labour Reporter
British Leyland last night held firm in its dispute with four white-collar unions after a thinly veiled warning from Sir Michael Edwardes, the chairman, that the dismissal of up to 3,300 staff was essential to the future of its investment programme.
The unions have called on their members to operate an immediate overtime ban in protest against the management’s formal notice that it intends to issue compulsory redundancy notices from November 21. Asked about the dispute, which is threatening to disrupt production of the new Mini Metro, Sir Michael, who was touring the Motor Show in Birmingham, said: “This is a matter for BL Cars ; however, I can say that the BL board is certainly not going to be able to put the plans to the Government for further funds unless BL Cars , are able to reduce their fixed expenses according to the plan they have submitted to us. How they deal with that cost reduction is, of course, up to them.”
The gloss put on Sir Michael’s remarks by Leyland executives last night was that the request for new funding for its investment programme which will be contained in the corporate plan had to carry with it a firm commitment to reduce white collar staff from the present level of 22,500 to just over 18,000. Such a figure is understood to be already, contained in the BL Cars submission. Senior union officials, however, remained just as adamant yesterday that while they were hot resisting the planned reduction itself, they would persist with an overtime ban in protest against the use of compulsory redundancies.
The ban is threatening the production and development of a number of new models. At Longbridge, for example, the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff, which expects to bear about half the planned redundancies, has members responsible for computerized stock and production control, who are now working overtime. A series of mass meetings of association members in various plants is expected today, and Mr Roy Grantham, the union’s general secretary, said last night that he expected most to endorse and begin operating the ban. Mr Grantham, who with senior officials from other unions will he attending a meeting next week with Mr Raymond Horrocks, the managing director of BL Cars, to discuss the dispute, said last night that the company was ” rushing its fences “. He did not believe that progress would be made until “the company accepts the strength of feeling among our members “.
That would be expressed through the overtime ban. They were not opposed to a “sensible and reasonable” method of achieving the cut backs through voluntary redundancies. The full extent of the response to the call, and its impact, is unlikely to become apparent until early next week.
BL will today reopen negotiations with union leaders representing 73,000 hourly paid car workers. The company is not expected to make more than a slight improvement in the 6-1 per cent offer made.