By R. W. Shakespeare
After nearly five weeks of hard bargaining, British Leyland appears to have achieved the breakthrough it has been seeking over a wages agreement for nearly 16,000 workers et its Austin-Morris car complex at Longbridge, Birmingham. It will mean the end of the traditional piecework system, the root cause of countless shop floor disputes over the years, and the introduction of new fixed hourly rates for various grades of workers.
The negotiations which could end in agreement today have ,been the most significant in the British motor industry for years. Not only for their direct effect on BLMC, but for their likely long-term impact on the piece-work pay system in the engineering industry. When the talks entered their fifth week on Monday the union representatives broke off their meetings with the management at Chateau Impney, Worcestershire, to go back to the plant to clear a number of points with shop stewards.
Since then hopes have risen that, an agreement would be reached before the end of this week. Both sides will be anxious to get the, deal settled before the Downing Street talks with the TUC and CBI reach the point at which the Government may have to step in with statutory controls. Mr Pat Lowry, BLMC’s director of labour relations, has, since his appointment two years ago, said that the abolition of piece-work from the car assembly plants must be the cornerstone of the corporation’s whole labour relations strategy.
It seems certain that the Longbridge deal will involve a new guaranteed basic rate for most production workers in excess of £45 for a 40-hour week and rising to more than £50 over the next 18 months to two years. The new “flat rate” system will also have to be geared to improvements in a number of other areas. These include some firm and improved guarantees on lay-off pay covering periods when workers are made idle by factors outside their control.
There would also be an agreement on the question of ” mutuality” which gives shop floor representatives negotiating rights over assembly line speeds, manning scales and other working conditions. BLMC is preparing to announce the details of the Longbridge deal at a special news conference as soon as final agreement is reached.
Just as BLMC’s new company based agreement on disputes procedure shows signs of becoming the prototype for a new national deal in engineering, so its new wages structures may set the pattern for other important sectors of the engineering industry.