Bv R. W. Shakespeare
The 80 maintenance workers whose unofficial strike has stopped all car production at British Leyland’s Austin-Morris car plant at Cowley, Oxford, will be told today that union leaders have ordered them to return to work at once. The instruction was sent yesterday to shop stewards by Mr. Reg Birch, executive council member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, and Mr. Moss Evans, national automotive officer of the Transport and General Workers’ Union.
This was after Mr. Pat Lowry, labour relations director of British Leyland, had invited them to meet him for informal talks Mr. Birch said later: “We have an agreement with the company and these men must honour it. Thev must go back to work.”
The unofficial strike began on Wednesday and by yesterday it had stopped all car assembly operations on the new Marina range, the Austin Maxi and the 1100 and 1300 models. It had caused the layoff of 2838 other workers and British Leyland was losing production at the rate of 1000 ears, worth £1m., during each two-shift 24-hour period.
The dispute is the first to affect production at Cowley since the highly successful Marina range was launched last month. The dispute is also the first serious trouble to hit the Cowley plant since a now pay deal, giving some workers a fixed rate of £1.05 an hour for a basic 40-hour week, was introduced to replace the old and complicated piece-work system. The trouble centres on the re-training and transfer of 20 men from the toolroom to the maintenance engineering staff.
The AUEW, representing the skilled engineers, and the TGWU, representing their mates, both agreed to waive a previous agreement under which there was one mate for each skilled engineer. They agreed that when the 20 men were transferred no new mates would be recruited. In return all the maintenance staff got a 5p an hour pay increase.
On Wednesday the engineers and mates walked out demanding that the one-for-one ratio of mates to skilled men should be reintroduced.