By Clifford Webb Midland Industrial Correspondent
British Leyland may be called upon to make a substantial compensation payment to 12,000 manual workers at its Longbridge, Birmingham car plant to induce them to drop their traditional piecework system of payment in favour of a flat day rate. It could cost the company an additional £2.5m. Formal negotiations between the works committee and senior management are expected to begin tomorrow on the company’s demands for a new wage strutcture.
A precedent for paying compensation has already been set at the company’s Cowley. Oxford. plant. Men engaged on the production of Maxi bodies have each been paid £225 for ending piecework. No compensation was paid to Marina workers in the same plant because that was a new model and there were no previous piecework standards available for comparison. It is not widely known that the majority of workers in the body plant, but not the adjoining car assembly works, are still operating piecework.
It was estimated yesterday that only 2,000 of the 5500 men employed there have accepted the changeover. Mr David Buckle, Oxford district secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, said last night that talks were at present under way to obtain similar compensation for a further group of pieceworkers in the body plant who are being pressed to accept a flat day rate. It is probable that the introduction of Austin-Morris’s next car, a replacement for the 1100/1300 to be built at Longbridge, will enable the company to avoid paying compensation to part of the Longbridge workforce as it did with the Marina at Cowley.
Mr George Turnbull, the division’s Managing director, has repeatedly asserted that he will not build another new car using piece-work methods. But with the Cowley precedent before him he will find it almost impossible to avoid paying compensation to men working on long-running models such as the 1800 and Mini which are also produced at Longbridge. Mr Buckle also pointed out that from the outset the changeover in the body plant had been conditional on employees having joint negotiating rights with management on changes in line speed, manning and performance.
His union has already announced that it expects similar rights at Longbridge.