By Clifford Webb Midlands Industrial Correspondent
British Leyland management’s determination to push ahead with controversial changes in ,working practices has run into immediate trouble. A strike by 50 Longbridge workers protesting at the withdrawal of their “togging-up ” allowances stopped production of the Mini and Allegro yesterday.
More than 5,000 workers were laid off last night. The speed with which management is introducing the changes, which are set out in a 92-page document, has surprised many. It was expected to wait until the last of the 18,500 on strike against the imposition of the pay and conditions package had returned to work. A further 1,600 voted to return today after a mass meeting at the Common Lane Sherpa van plant.
Only 3,500 Jaguar workers are still on strike and they are due to meet today. But what will be the consequences if they vote to stay out? Will Sir Michael Edwardes, BL chairman, carry out his threat to dismiss any of the 18,500 strikers who do not report for work today? Last night BL said: “We shall review the situation tomorrow when we know the result of the separate meetings of day and night-shift workers. It will probably be Thursday before we decide on a course of action.”
On the “togging-up” dispute a senior management source said that there was nothing to be gained by putting off controversial changes until a more opportune time.
“To wait is only to invite trouble when you are least expecting it”, he said. On the other hand there is evidence that in the tense aftermath of the strike some members of the Transport and General Workers’ Union are looking for opportunities for confrontation. They are still angry with their union’s withdrawal of official backing for the strike and are more than ready to renew the fight in localized guerrilla strikes which they believe they can control without the assistance of union leaders.
The Times has obtained a copy of the 92-page document. Appendix F sets out conditions under which payments will be made to men engaged in special working or extreme conditions. It lists only four occupations which qualify for payments ranging from £5 to £8.25 a week. They are paint-sprayers, wax-sprayers, under-sealers and lead booth operators.
That is a considerable reduction in the number who qualified previously. The 50 Longbridge strikers, for instance, are gas welders and body finishers. The company pointed out last night that a much larger number who lost their allowances had discussed the decision with local management and accepted it. Behind the tough stance by BL is an attempt to reduce the considerable amount of working time lost by men who, while receiving a “togging-up” payment as an incentive to arrive early to don their protective clothing, still insist on working the same hours as men who do not receive payment.
Vote to go back:
The only workers in the Oxford area who joined in the spate of stoppages over BL’s changed working conditions voted yesterday to end their strike (our Oxford correspondent writes). The strikers, workers in the tank shop at Oxford Exhausts, were the first group in the factory to face new work targets.