By Paul Hoyland
A meeting of Land Rover’s 6,000 manual workers ended in confusion yesterday when union leaders claimed that their call to end a five-week strike at the company’s plant in Solihull, West Midlands, had been carried on a show of hands. Mr Stan Hill, the plant convenor, was howled down by employees determined to continue the dispute after an inconclusive vote in which the workforce appeared evenly divided.
Order was restored only when Mr Hill conceded demands for a ballot to resolve the uncertainty. Papers for a postal ballot were being sent out last night with the company’s assistance, with the result due to be declared on Saturday. The unions joint negotiating committee and a majority of the shop stewards recommended acceptance of a revised pay deal in which the company restructured allowances without increasing its overall offer.
Land Rover claimed that the package was worth 14 per cent over two years, but the unions said only 9 per cent was guaranteed new money. When details of the peace formula, resolved after 14 hours of talks, were given to the meeting yesterday, several workers called for a greater share of the company’s recently announced annual profit of £22.5 million. Mr Sam Robinson, chairman of the unions negotiating committee, was jeered when he told the meeting that the company would not improve its offer.
“It is not as much as we wanted,” he said, “but after a five-week strike it is as far as this management are prepared to go.”
The rain-soaked gathering, on the car park of Land Rover’s social club adjoining the plant, was delayed for half an hour to bring in sound equipment. Workers described the outcome as “a shambles.” Union leaders appealed to the workforce to remain on strike pending the outcome of the ballot. Land Rover said 220 employees had returned to work yesterday, an increase of 50 on the previous day. The strike has cost the company £69 million in lost production so far.
Workers at Jaguar’s assembly plant in Coventry are being balloted on industrial action in protest at plans to boost production from 48,000 to 56,000 cars this year, without taking on extra workers.