HOME NEWS, By Clifford Webb Midlands Industrial Corresoandent
Production of BL’s best selling car, the Mini, was halted at Longbridge yesterday by a strike of 30 trim shop workers who claimed that a new type of sound-deadening material was a danger to health. it is the first strike at the plant since Mr Derek Robinson, the Longbridge union convener, was dismissed four months ago.
BL began installing the inch- thick, felt-like material in the roof of the Mini earlier this month to reduce noise. Workers complained that while fixing it with an adhesive they were showered with sharp particles which irritated their skin and in some instances caused a rash. There were a number of protest stoppages last week, ending in a walk-out on Friday. As a result BL laid off all 2,000 day and night shift assembly workers yesterday, stopping Mini production.
The material is produced by Pressedfelts, of Colne, Lancashire, who said yesterday: “It is the same specification which we suppl to a number of European and British car firms without any problems. We are mystified by the Longbridge problem.”
BL said: “Tests by independent analysts have given the material a clean bill of health. The workers involved have been seen by factory medical staff and assured that there is no health hazard. In addition, factories inspectors have been invited into the factory. This material is widely used in the motor industry and we understand that it has never given cause for complaint as a health problem.”
Management talks with the works committee led by Mr Robinson’s successor, Mr Jack Adams, failed to produce a settlement. National union leaders and shop stewards on BL Cars joint negotiating committee are meeting at the company’s Haseley Manor, Warwickshire, training centre tomorrow to coordinate their reaction to the management’s decision to impose its pay and conditions offer after four months of unsuccessful negotiations. Despite recent evidence that many workers are against industrial action which could endanger BL’s already precarious position, some shop stewards will press for an immediate strike.
A senior Transport and General Workers’ Union shop steward said last night “Management has now come into the open and said in a 92-page document setting out reforms of working practices that it intends to put a stop to mutuality once and for all. That means that if management has its way the unions will no longer have a say in how many men will be required to do a particular job and how hard they will have to work. They are using the new Metro and its importance to BL to try to force us into submission.”