British Leyland would continue to “hand the industry over on a plate” to its competitors until it introduced a more rational wage bargaining system, Mr Pat Lowry, the group’s personnel director, said yesterday. Delivering the 1975 Nuffield Meemorial Lecture to the Institution of Production Engineers he said that although the number of separate bargaining units had been substantially reduced there were still more than 250.
“Many plants have more than one bargaining unit for hourly-rated employees, in the Castle Bromwich plant there are nine-and the white collar unions bargain separately. An additional and serious complication is that there is no common date for the renewal of agreements.”
Mr Lowry said he now profoundly regretted that BL had not persisted with its 1970 proposals for a joint management-union council. But in 1970 employee participation did not trip so lightly off the tongue as today and the company had unfortunately accepted the union’s rejection.
“With hindsight I am confident that if the council had been established and we had set up the machinery for frequent meetings with the employees’ power base-senior’ shop stewards-we would have been spared at least some of the bitterness and misunderstanding of the next five years.”
On a number of occasions BL had seriously considered recognizing the unofficial Combined Shop Stewards Committee as an alternative to its own rejected proposals. However when this possibility was raised with union officials the company was warned off.
“The unions themselves did not recognize the combine, and the price the corporation would pay for doing so would be to lose the valuable support and assistance of full time union officials.”
On the much publicized activities of militants he said: “Extremist influences totally dedicated to the destruction of society as we know it have never been totally absent from BL.’ ” But as one of nature’s optimists I take the view that the basic reforms we have introduced, the attitude of principled consistency which our managers are urged to adopt in- grievance handling, the greater understanding, both as a result of our efforts and the Ryder report, that employees now have about the problems of the company and of the motor industry, the new form of ownership and, not least, our proposals for employee participation, together combine to give us hope for the new British Leyland.”