Comments by a former BBC economics correspondent that a factory complex owned by British Leyland was a ‘skivers paradise’ have started a storm of protest.
The allegation was made by journalist and economist Mr Graham Turner. Mr Turner, author of a special study of the big British car firm called ‘The Leyland Papers‘, said he had formed his impressions after talking to workers at the complex.
He went on: ‘The stories that the workers tell really make your hair stand on end, even if only half of them are true. ‘
One man had told him how he normally only worked half an hour a day, and how he had relaxed on shift one week by sun-bathing.
‘Another fellow told me about one particular night shift in a department where they are supposed to start about 10 pm.
He said normally they knock off at about 1 am and go to bed for the rest of the shift. Another fellow said – ‘That’s not true. We normally go to bed about midnight.’
Mr Turner added ‘Then you hear all the stories about the card schools around the line and the rest rooms. People work an hour on and then an hour off, and then they go in to the card school. One foreman said to me they had ‘great difficulty getting people back on the line if they’ve been on the losing end of a card game.’
He said his knowledge was based on information from men ‘ who might be rogues and liars but I believe them to be honest.’
‘Men who would be happier to work much harder, but find themselves in a situation where it’s not possible—either because of weak management or because the unions have had such a grip on that plant that anybody who kicks up rough will get sat on.’
Mr Turner was commenting on the latest industrial dispute within British Leyland at Birmingham which has made 6000 people idle at the Cowley complex.
But a British Leyland spokesman replied today ‘Mr Turner is guilty of gross distortion.’
The company was working towards a 7 per cent improvement in efficiency in manual labour areas and 10 per cent in staff areas.
‘But to say, as Mr Turner did, that only half the workers at Cowley are required to run the plant simply demonstrates his ignorance of the realities of manufacturing, and, worse still, demonstrates a cynical and totally unfair derision of the Cowley workers.’
The spokesman said ‘His comments can only cause bitterness and resentment in a community which is doing a great deal to help support the economy of the country in very difficult times.’
Mr David Buckle, Oxford district secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, challenged Mr Turner to take a job at the car works.
‘What he has said is utter nonsense. The only way he will be able to get his facts right is to take a job at the factory. In three months I am sure he would make a completely different statement.’
Mr Buckle said if Mr Turner resigned from the journalists union temporarily ‘ we would certainly give him a TGWU card. ‘