Ford faces shutdown threat after white-collar staff's first strike vote

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The Independent Online

Ford, the car maker, last night faced the threat of a shutdown of its UK operations after 3,000 white-collar staff voted for a national strike for the first time in the company's history.

Ford, the car maker, last night faced the threat of a shutdown of its UK operations after 3,000 white-collar staff voted for a national strike for the first time in the company's history.

Union representatives will today consider whether to call an indefinite stoppage by key information technology personnel. Employees believe this would cause chaos "within hours".

Salaried staff belonging to the Manufacturing Science Finance and Transport & General unions at all Ford's UK plants voted 63 per cent in favour of a strike in a protest over pay and pensions. Turnout was 76 per cent.

Industrial action would come at a bad time for Ford, which is trying to cut costs after reporting losses across Europe. More than 99 per cent of the UK voters also supported industrial action short of a strike - a measure of the widespread nature of the unrest.

The white-collar employees, including engineering, finance administrative and management staff, are demanding a pay settlement equivalent to that agreed by hourly paid workers. Both sets of workers were awarded 11 per cent over three years, but manual workers also won a cut in the working week from 39 to 37.5 hours, in effect giving them an extra 4 per cent.

The dispute has been aggravated by Ford's plan to merge the Professional Staff pension fund, which has a £507m surplus, with the Hourly Paid fund, about £155m in deficit. The unions are threatening legal action over the merger, arguing that management has used the overall surplus to finance the settlement for all employees, including the reduction in working time for production workers.

Union leaders are due to meet management on Monday, 24 hours before employees are legally entitled to begin their action. A newly-formed strike committee will today consider a proposal to bring out key parts of the workforce in selective action, which could be funded by a levy on their colleagues.

Terry Pye, a national MSF officer, said Ford had "made a serious mistake" by thinking his members were not serious about action for equal pay and to save their pension fund. "They are traditionally moderate, but the company treated them unfairly and they have shown their anger. Now Ford must think again," he said.

Bob Purkiss of the TGWU said industrial action by white-collar staff would cause serious disruption, but they expected to be treated just as favourably as their hourly paid colleagues. "As Ford's new slogan says, my members 'expect more' from the company."

A Ford spokesman said the "final offer" relayed to unions in December was still on the table. "It represents the best framework for Ford employees and the company's manufacturing operations in Britain," he said. He confirmed that the company would take up the unions' offer of a meeting on 7 February.

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