By PAUL ROUTLEDGE, Labour Staff
A national conference of senior shop stewards in British Leyland’s 70 plants is being called for Tuesday, March 10, probably in Birmingham, as part of a concerted union attempt to improve labour relations in the 185,000- employee car and truck making empire. Leaders of 15 unions promised to call the conference in talks yesterday with Lord Stokes. B.L.M.C. chairman, who on Wednesday accused union militants of a “planned and deliberate disruption” of vehicle production by industrial disputes.
Jack Jones. Transport and General Workers’ Union general secretary, said Lord Stokes’s speech on Wednesday, which bitterly attacked unofficial strikers, was “a matter for him and his shareholders”.
He added: “We recognize that there are big problems, largely caused by the size of the organization. Our members are naturally concerned about security of employment. wage rates and working conditions.”
There were various ways or solving the problems, and the unions proposed to consult their members through the shop stewards. Union leaders will meet Lord Stokes again. Lord Stokes warned two days ago of ” massive unemployment” if the company’s labour difficulties were not solved. In a radio interview yesterday, he refused to back down on the speech which angered some union leaders.
The British Leyland chairman said: “I think I am quite entitled to tell my shareholders, who after all own the business, the reasons why we are not making a profit. If we had been able to make all the cars we scheduled, we would have made a normal profit.”
He went on: “One of the problems of this country is that too many people are sweeping industrial relations problems under the carpet and trying to pretend they don’t exist. If we go on like this we will all go bust. Our problem is to try to get this merger going. But 70 per cent of our time is spent worrying about people who walk out of consultation without getting on with the merger. We have made quite fantastic progress in the last 12 months, but all this is going to be brought to nought if people don’t turn up to work. It’s just chaos, that’s all.”
Victor Feather, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, in another radio interview, described Lord Stokes’s address to shareholders as “blowing a gasket “.
He added: “I must admit there are times when I would like to let fly at managements like that, but if you are seeking to get better relationships, I do not think it is a good thing to go out full blast against the people you are going to have to live with. But for all that, I would still buy his shares. He is a spectacular man, with enormous energy.”
Piecework men turn down Cowley pay plan
By CLIFFORD WEBB, Midland Industrial Correspondent
British Leyland, the only one of the “big four” car firms still tied to the piecework system of payment, has taken the first important step towards introducing a simplified pay structure and immediately ran into trouble with the unions. The plant chosen for this pioneering move is Cowley, the big Austin- Morris car assembly plant near Oxford which employs 7,500. For a week its five assembly lines have been halted and 3,800 men laid off, as a direct result of the wage negotiations.
One hundred and twenty six electricians are on strike for a substantial wage increase now. At a meeting on Wednesday they voted to stay out insisting that their claim should not be included in the present plant negotiations. British Leyland wants to replace the existing outdated and highly complex pay structure for 4,000 day workers with one based on six grades.
This would introduce flat rates Paying from £24 12s. for the lowest grade to £31 15s. for the highest, an increase of £2 a week for most of the 4,000. In return it calls for an end to all incentive payments. These are based on the average earnings of the higher-paid piece workers who man the actual assembly lines. It is a complicated system which over the years has led to continuous bickering and wildcat strikes.
The proposals have been rejected in their present form by the three major car unions, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers, the Transport and General Workers’ and the National Union of Vehicle Builders. Modified proposals will be put to the unions on Tuesday.
Last night a transport union official said: “It is not simply a question of how much. We turned down the company’s proposals because, quite frankly we like the present system. We are also suspicious of the company’s motives. Although the present proposal do not affect pieceworkers we see this as the first move to getting rid of piecework. British Leyland is trying to tackle the easiest part first, the day workers whose earnings are tied to those of the piece- workers.”
A British Leyland spokesman said: “Cowley is being re-equipped and expanded at a cost of many millions of pounds to increase capacity from 8,000 cars a week to 10,000. It will then be producing about the same number as the group’s biggest car plant at Longbridge. At the same time we are trying to simplify the present highly complicated pay structure for day workers by introducing a more flexible system of working.”
At Cowley, Oxford, 126 electricians on strike; 3,890 men laid off; 1000 cars lost; total £800,000.
At Longbridge , Birmingham, 200 men striking over piece rates;
800 laid off: 500 cars lost; total £400,000.
At Rover’s Solihull plant, hit by a shortage of brakes caused by a strike at Girling’s factory in Cheshire, 1,500 men were laid off and two hundred cars were lost at a cost of £250,000. At Coventry , union eaders representing 13,000 clerical workers at
Standard-Triumph held a meeting and blamed Lord Stokes for the trouble .
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