Archive : Report criticizes Mr Robinson but says dismissal unfair

By Donald Macintyre Labour Reporter

Mr Derek Robinson, the Longbridge convener, should not have been dismissed by British Leyland in November, according to an internal union inquiry into the case. The union should therefore pursue Mr Robinson’s reinstatement, the iinquiry report says. In particular the report, published yesterday, says that an earlier warning to Mr Robinson in March was not a formal one in accordance with normal disciplinary procedures and therefore could not be held to justify dismissal for a later alleged offence.

The report, prepared by Mr J. G. Russell, Mr Kenneth Cure and Mr John Weakley, all members of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers’ executive, also criticizes Mr Robinson for “serious failings and lack of responsibility in relation to his duties”
as convener. The report recalls that the inquiry was ordered by the executive after consideration of the ” extremely damaging ” consequences that a dispute over Mr Robinson’s dismissal might have. It was essential that the executive first satisfy itself fully on the circumstances before embarking on such a ” drastic step “.

The team considered the company’s letter of November 22 to the union pointing out that the BL recovery plan had been overwhelmingly endorsed by the ballot of employees. The Leyland combined committee, the letter said, should have, endorsed that decision but instead published a booklet calling for disruptive action against the plan. BL had not been prepared to accept that. It warned three of the employees who had signed it and dismissed the fourth, Mr Robinson, for his activities as chairman of the combine. His punishment had been harsher because he had been warned in March 1979, for other acts of misconduct, the letter said. The first task of the team had been to establish whether there was a formal code of discipline.

The company’s code, drawn up in accordance with the, Employment Protection Act, had not been agreed with the shop stewards. But the report says that in practice “it is perfectly clear .. . that the code is recognized “, since stewards and fulltime officials have operated its machinery.

Alleged disciplinary action, March 12, 1979: On February 5 BL Cars senior stewards had agreed to recommend five days notice of strike action over a dispute arising from the management’s failure “to implement the nationally agreed minimum time rates ”
and amounts due under the company’s parity programme. Mr Robinson had reported that to a meeting of the Longbridge stewards, who voted for strike action from February 7.

The management had regarded “the position as so serious” that they asked Mr Robinson and Mr Jack Adams, senior TGWU shop steward, to meet them. Mr J. Gilroy, manufacturing director, Austin Morris, told the inquiry he had said at the meeting that productivity had not been met, that statements by Mr Robinson had been wrong and the strike would only damage the company.

Mr Gillroy had added: “Unfortunately our attempts to get logic to prevail failed. In fact the following day, during the meeting on the Park, Derek Robinson referred to it and was quite abusive.”

The strike went ahead and ended on February 7. On March 12 Mr Robinson and Mr Adams were summoned to the plant Personnel manager’s office. The management said that Mr Adams was asked to be present as Mr Robinson’s colleague “in accordance with the spirit of the disciplinary code “.

They had decided on an informal hearing in order to be constructive. They pointed, among other things, to the damage caused by the strike, Mr Robinson’s use of ” misleading” statements, the fact that only Longbridge had struck and that the stewards’ decision (at Longbridge) had been contrary to national union decisions. Mr Robinson, the management statement said, knew he was being disciplined because he said: “I’ve got the, message, but don’t try to sack me or Jack Adams “.

The union statement said management had given no indication it was a diciplinary hearing, although the meeting was ” a very heated one “. The report criticizes Mr Robinson who, it says, should have abided by official trade union position of giving five days’ strike notice, failed to report that the Longbridge stewards had made, a contrary decision and had failed to report on the March 12 meeting to his district committee.

Disciplinary Action November 19, 1979 . The report recalls the seven to one majority of employees in favour of the recovery plan. After the ballot, the Leyland combine had published a booklet calling for “continued resistance to the plan by factory occupation sit-ins and the blacking’ of transferred work from one plant to another”.

The management said they had sent for Mr Bert Benson, the Birmingham West district secretary, and in his presence dismissed Mr Robinson. Mr Robinson had according to the management, refused to accept that he could be disciplined. The union account of the meeting said that Mr Robinson had declined to dissociate himself from the booklet. The district secretary said the document should have been raised nationally, the disciplinary code had not been operated in March, BL was discriminating against Mr Robinson and the booklet would have little or no effect.

The inquiry team had no doubts that on that occasion the management be operated within the code in that a full- time official had been present. It would, however, be difficult to consider the subsequent appeal fair since it was heard by Mr Gilroy, who had endorsed the earlier decision to dismiss. The report comments that Mr Robinson “had no right as an AUEW convener to put his name to this booklet without the prior approval of his district committee and thereafter of the executive council “.

He had no right to call for disruptive action within the district without approval of either body and he “certainly had no right whatsoever to call for disruptive action in other disticts”.

The report concludes that the March 12 meeting was not a disciplinary hearing. Mr Robinson was denied an appeal against the earlier warning, and the warning had not been expunged after three months as was, according to the report, normal in the case of oral warnings. Nor was the management’s action communicated to the union’s officials.

“It is our considered view that D. Robinson should not have been dismissed for the reason that he was warned on March 12, 1979, and we recommend we pursue his reinstatement. We must however comment as a committee on the serious failings and lack of responsibility shown by D. Robinson in relating to his duties as our AUEW Convener at Longbridge.”

Strike threat at BL plant unless convener is reinstated
Union inquiry finds company was wrong to dismiss Mr Derek Robinson over booklet
Bv Donald Macintyre

The Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers executive yesterday called for a strike of its 8,000 members at the British Leyland plant, at Longbridge unless the company reinstates Mr Derek Robinson, the Communist convener dismissed in November.
The union agreed to a request from Sir Michael Edwardes, BL chairman, for 36 hours to consider the 13-page report of an internal union inquiry, endorsed by the executive and declaring that the company was wrong to dismiss Mr Robinson.

The company has undertaken to reply today. The request followed several hours of secret talks on Tuesday night at which senior members of the executive conveyed the findings to Sir Michael and his colleagues. Mr Terence. Duffy, the union’s president, said it had been telephoned early yesterday. The executive has charged the union’s Birmingham West District Committee, which met last night, with deciding how to consult its members on the strike call.

The report heavily criticizes Mr Robinson for some of his activities as convener, but finds that the, company was wrong to dismiss him. The company’s main grounds for dismissing Mr Robinson rather than giving mere warnings, as they did to three other, members of the unofficial Leyland shop stewards’ combine who signed a booklet attacking BL’s recovery plan, was that it had issued a warning to him for another offence in March. But the inquiry report rejects that, saying that the March warning over Mr Robinson’s part in leading a pay strike in Longbridge was not a formal one under normal union-management procedures.

While. Mr Duffy emphasized that “it is an instruction and it is incumbent on the district committee to implement it “,
the executive has in effect left the ultimate verdict on how far to go in support of Mr Robinson to the Longbridge members themselves. Mr Gerry Russell, the chairman of the inquiry team, said: “The membership must have the final right to decide “.

The threat of a company wide strike last November was lifted pending the inquiry, which has taken evidence from union and management representatives at several levels. Mr Duffy made it clear that while they would not prevent other unions, such as the Transport and General Workers’ Union, some of whose Midland members struck in support of Mr Robinson in November, from joining the strike they were not formally asking them to do so.

The union itself was ” isolating” its call to the Longbridge plant. The report was shown to Mr Robinson in Birmingham an hour before the announcement of the executive’s decision that having failed to secure the re-employment or re-instatement of Mr Robinson, “we are now of the firm view that our membership should withdraw labour at Austin Morris, Longbridge. The district committee are therefore instructed jointly with our Longbridge stewards, to place the executive council’s decision before our members and secure a complete withdrawal of labour by those members “.

Mr Robinson said the union had come “forward with a very principled decision”. He added: “The case is clear cut. I have been completely exonerated by my executive.”

The company said it was reserving its response until it had time to study the report in full, and would reply to the union today. Pressed on what the union would do if the company suggested reinstatement of Mr Robinson but without shop steward status, Mr Duffy said: “If Sir Michael wishes to reinstate Mr Robinson but wants conditions applied we shall have to give deep consideration to that.”

There was no sign from the company that Sir Michael, who last week said he would have to have “some remarkable evidence” for the company to change its mind about the dismissal of Mr Robinson, is likely to modify his stance. Mr Duffy, asked about the shop floor response, said: “If the members decide not to come out on strike how can we compel them? We have not got the power to compel them to respond.”

Keith Adams

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