By Donald Macintyre Labour Reporter
The Transport and General Workers’ Union is recommending its 18000 striking BL members to return to work on a formula which leaves all the significant elements of the company’s pay and conditions package intact. After nine hours of talks last night TGWU leaders accepted that they could not persuade the company either to increase its pay offer of increases worth 5 and 10 per cent or modify the widespread changes in working practices it intends to introduce at its car plants.
The breakthrough was welcomed by the management last night. Mr Ray Horrocks, chief executive of BL Cars. said: “We are pleased, mighty relieved, and damn glad to be back to work “.
As a result of agreement to last night’s formula, the company withdrew its ultimatum that the strikers would be dismissed had they not returned to work by next Wednesday. The company also agreed to a new procedure for a 10-day cooling-off period before the implementation of “major changes likely to have a significant and widespread effect upon employees “.
The purpose of that will be to allow for consultation with local and, if necessary, national officials before such changes are implemented. But both sides accept that after that period has ended if agreement is not reached “all procedures are deemed to have been exhausted”.
While the formula apparently satisfied the most hostile union leaders at yesterday’s meeting at the company’s offices in Portman Square, London, that they had made real progress in restoring an element of ” mutuality ” between unions and management on changes, all officials present have reluctantly accepted that the company is determined to press ahead with substantially the same package it first unveiled last October.
Mr Mostyn Evans, general secretary of the TGWU, said last night: “The company had made it clear that no further money is available to increase the levels of pay. We do not think that any useful purpose would be served in going to the Government to increase the current levels of pay on offer.”
Mr Evans acknowledged: “There has been relatively little change at all to the proposals (on working conditions) we were not prepared to accept.” But he added: “We hope that the members will collectively accept the recommendation of all the unions so that there can be as soon as possible a resumption of normal working.”
Mr Evans maintained: “I am very pleased to say that we have now been able to restore, I think, the provisions for mutuality and the status quo which we have always had.”
The company had made it clear that it was not its intention to eliminate provisions of the implementation of existing working practices. The formula agreed last night also provides for reconstitution of the BL Cars joint negotiating committee by August so that it can “act as a forum for the consideration of BL Cars and as a negotiating body that is better able to conclude agreements in the mutual interests of the company and its employees”.
The TGWU in particular has been unhappy with the structure of the committee, believing that it does not fully reflect its importance as the biggest union. Mr Horrocks said that those and other clauses in the “agreed statement of understanding” signed last night should help to persuade unions that we are not going to put on any hobnail boots and tread on them. We recognize that without the trade unions there probably is no way we can run BL Cars and probably no way we can make money……….I am damn glad to be back producing cars again .”
The tone of both sides after last night’s meeting seemed. to suggest an easing of the tension between them without inflicting any substantial damage to the company’s overall strategy.