By Paul Connew
Workers at a giant car factory are being “fined” by shop stewards for working too hard. The wage slips of hundreds of workers are inspected on pay days by the shop stewards who fix “fines” of up to £2 a week.
The fines are being levied against sheet metal workers at British Leyland’s Austin works at Longbridge, Birmingham. The money is paid into a fund which reimburses shop stewards for lack of earnings when they are on union business. The fund also makes “benevolent grants” to members and widows.
Bitter resentment over the fines has spread among some of the workers. Communist shop steward Alan Hinks last night denied that he was the instigator of the system.
Fifty-eight-year-old Mr Hinks said: “These fines are necessary for the good of the majority. We don’t want a free-for-all in our
shop.” About 680 workers have their wage slips inspected by Mr Hinks and other shop stewards from the Birmingham and Midland Sheet Metalworkers Society.
Mr Hinks said some men “would kill themselves with work” If the pay-day fines were not enforced. There would be anarchy in the shop, with people wanting to work too hard if we did not do this.”
A sheet metalworker earns an average of £40 a week. The union’s central committee at the factory have imposed a limit on the amount of work a man can do. Mr Hinks, who lives in St Stephens Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham, said that the fines for too much work drove home the point of good trade unionism.
“We want work more evenly distributed because we believe that will help raise the minimum levels for everyone”, he said. In the past some gangs of workers were able to earn up to £10 a week more than their colleagues, he claimed.
Mr Hinks added: “I’ll admit there are some pockets of resistance to the scheme . A few people might blame me because I am a communist. But I honestly believe that if the fine system was put to a shop floor vote it would be heavily approved. There is an established provision for the fine system in our union—and I was not solely responsible for introducing it at Longbridge. It must be rigidly enforced to work effectively.”
Money gathered in fines had been paid back to workers who ” successfully appealed,” he said.
One sheet metal worker said: “There is a hell of a lot of resentment, but many people are afraid of getting on the wrong side of the union. It does not seem right that you should be told to work hard and then be fined for working a bit too much. It is also degrading. to have your wage slip inspected.”
A spokesman for British Leyland said: “This is a matter on which we cannot comment.”
Leyland plans taking shape
Lord Stokes, chairman of British Leyland. said last night that the ‘ prodigious work ” put into re-shaping the company since its formation over two years ago would have been hailed as a miracle in any other country but Britain. He added: ” We are trying to do in a few years what it has taken our major competitors a generation to accomplish”.
Lord Stokes said plans for improving efficiency and rationalization of factories were nearing completion. The group was planning for a substantial increase in productive capacity in all its plants.