By R. W. Shakespeare
Bntish Leyland senior executives, including Mr Pat Lowry, the corporation’s industrial relations director, went back to Sir Frank Figgures, the Pay Board chairman, yesterday in a fresh attempt to resolve one of the motor industry’s confrontations over the Government’s pay policies.
The problems of both these motor groups arise from Pay Board rulings that pay demands-and, in the case of British Leyland, a deal agreed between unions and management-.cannot be paid in full during Phase Two. BLMC’s trouble centres on its huge Austin-Morris car plant at Longbridge, Birmingham. Production was stopped on Wednesday with nearly 20,000 workers idle while the management discussed with union officials the Pay Board’s decision that only £2.42 of a negotiated increase of £4 a week for 9,000 workers can be paid immediately and that the balance must be deferred until November
The 9,000 workers concerned staged a walk-out during these talks and the rest of the labour force had to he sent home. But the management agreed to make fresh representations to the board, and yesterday there was a full resumption of work. It may well be that British Leyland hopes that by dropping the proposals back into the lap of the Pay Board, which has already spent the full 56 statutory days considering the original application, it can play for more time and stave off any further militant action.
If the hoard is now presented with a slightly amended version of the proposed settlement it can presumably take up to another 56 days to consider it. by which time November may be here and the full £4 can be paid ,much of it back-dated to May of this year. But just how the unions will react to any further delay remains to be seen.
A Pay Board spokesman said yesterday: “There is no precedent for this situation but of course we will treat this as a matter of urgency, as we always do”.
Several factors clearly influenced the return to work at Longbridge yesterday. First, the management had taken the initiative in suggesting a fresh approach to the Pay Board. Secondly, it was pay day at the plant and since the entire labour force is on holiday next week all the workers will have been anxious to collect their cash and holiday entitlements. The Longbridge deal, and others that are still in the pipeline at Jaguar and Triumph plants, is crucial to British Leyland’s overall wages strategy in which it is attempting to eliminate the piecework system from all its vehicle production centres.
The corporation is trying in the present deal to iron out a serious pay anomaly at Longbridge which results from the timing’ of two separate sets of negotiations and the intervetion of the Governmnent’s prices and incomes policy. Imediately before the pay freeze was announced, a new agreement covering the 10,000 assembly line workers at Longbridge was signed. This put them on to a new flat rate pay system with big pay increases in a deal which runs until May of next year. by which time the standard rate for most workers will be nearly £50 for a 40-hour week.
British Leyland then had to negotiate a new pay deal with 9,000 “indirect” workers whose existing agreement ran out in May of this year. But the Government’s freeze and then Phase Two intervened. In an effort to close the gap between the two groups of workers British Leyland agreed to a £4 a week increase for the 9,000 indirect workers backdated to May. Union negotiators accepted this, but the deal had of course to go to the Pay Board for approval.
In its representations to the board British Leyland argued that the increase came within the Phase Two rules if a £1 plus 4 per cent calculation was based on the total payroll of the Longbridge plant. The board has disagreed and ruled that only £2.42 can be paid now and backdated to May, and that the balance must be paid from November 1. Ironically. among the Longbridge employees who went back to work yesterday were the plant’s key electricians who now find themselves in an almost parallel situation over their pay deal as those in Chrysler’s Coventry plants.