By Terry Pattinson and Edward Laxton
Angry car workers hit back last night over the dramatic ultimatum from their bosses at British Leyland –” Work harder or you’ll be sent home.”
The men accused company chiefs of incompetence—and not providing the tools for the job.
But the backlash from shop stewards and union leaders made the firm even more defiant that production has got to speed up . . . or thousands will lose their jobs. The crunch will come today at the North Works in Cowley, Oxford, where 600 assembly workers have been turning out eleven cars an hour—and seven of those are faulty. British Leyland are demanding 28.5 perfect cars an hour. The men’s output on each shift will be monitored—and if they do not keep pace with the firm’s target they will be sent home. The hour – by – hour vetting is expected to go on for weeks.
It was ordered by plant director Des North. He has stipulated that every car coming off the production line must be perfect—or it won’t be counted.
But Mr Bob Wright, a member of the engineering union’s executive, said: “Talks of mass reprisals and mass punishment, is no way to solve the problems. Union leaders handle men differently. These delicate matters should be handled by negotiation.”
Mr Reg Birch, the union’s national executive officer — who has special responsibility for British Leyland—said he was amazed by the ultimatum. Mr Birch said: “My first reaction to the figure of 28.5 cars was who on earth wants to buy half a motor car? This is typical of management thinking. Instead of acting like this, why don’t they come to the unions for help and negotiate?”
But company chiefs say that eleven Maxis and Princesses an hour is just not good enough while there is a huge demand for the two cars. While the battle is going on over how hard the men work, a secret report has ‘been leaked to senior shop stewards which says: “We must work harder to reach Japanese productivity levels.”
The report was drawn up by six management engineers who went to Japan to inspect factories like Datsun and Toyota. Workers and management at British Leyland have always argued that it is impossible to compare British workers with their European and Japanese rivals. But the shock report says that ” the Japanese work harder to achieve a much better output.”