By R. W. Shakespeare
The British Leyland management has made its first move in a bid to end the traditional piece-work system among the 25,000 workers at its biggest car plant, the huge Austin Morris complex at Longbridge, Birmingham. What are called preliminary domestic discussions are taking place between the management and all the Longbridge shop stewards.
The management hopes the talks will lead to the introduction of a new wages structure, based on fixed hourly rates, to replace the present “Jungle ” of hundreds of different piecework rates. But negotiations have opened against a very unsettled background. There are growing fears among British Leyland’s car workers that B.L.M.C. is about to announce massive redundancy plans.
Today senior management men will meet national officials of the engineering unions at the Engineering Employers’ Federation headquarters in London to discuss manpower changes . No inkling of what Lord Stokes and his management team have in mind has yet reached either the union leaders or the car plants, but there are growing rumours of redundancies and even factory closures.
Tomorrow B.L.M.C.’s plans will be made known at a series of plant-level meetings with shop floor representatives. So far the talks on the new pay deal at Longbridge have not reached the stage at which money is being discussed. They are concerned with the principle of ending piecework. The circumstances at Longbridge are rather different from those at the Austin Morris plant at Cowley, Oxford where the management has already put a cash figure on its proposals for a new pay system, with a top grade of £1 an hour.
There the company is determined to eliminate piecework from both the car body plant and the car assembly areas before it puts a new medium range car into production. In order to stand any chance of getting its plans accepted, the management was obliged to extend its pay proposals to all the piece- workers among the 9,000 labour force at Cowley.
But only one section of workers has accepted the new pay structure in principle. The rest have turned it down and the management is now having to fight its case through the engineering industry disputes procedure. Production at Cowley was halted yesterday and 1,500 men laid off after 80 shop stewards left the factory to discuss the wage proposals with union officials. Relief men refused to stand in for them. More disruption is expected tomorrow when a mass meeting of the Cowley workers is planned.