Ford meets white-collar union to avert strike over pay and pensions

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The Independent Online

Union leaders meet Ford management today in an attempt to avert industrial action which could cause chaos at the motor company's British plants.

Union leaders meet Ford management today in an attempt to avert industrial action which could cause chaos at the motor company's British plants.

Representatives of 3,000 white-collar workers are threatening to call strikes among key staff in a protest over pay and pensions.

Sources at the Manufacturing Science Finance union yesterday said that if the company refused to negotiate information technology personnel could be the first to walk out, which according to employees' representatives could bring the business to a halt "within hours".

Other union officials said the action could first take the form of an overtime ban and if there was no response from the company, salaried staff would then walk out. Under employment law MSF and the Transport & General - the two unions involved - will have to give seven days' notice of disruption.

Both Ford's salaried and hourly-paid employees were awarded an 11 per cent pay rise over three years last December. However production workers also enjoyed a reduction in their working week from 39 to 37.5 hours, effectively giving them an extra 4 per cent. Salaried staff are demanding parity with their colleagues.

However white-collar workers are also angry over the company's decision to merge their pension fund, which is showing a £570m surplus, with that of the production workers, which is in £155m deficit.

Terry Pye, national official at MSF, argued that company was using the surplus of the newly merged funds to finance the pay settlement for all employees. "The pensions issue has angered all salaried staff. There is no question of my members being bought off with an extra half a per cent on pay. The company must address the pensions issue otherwise there will be no deal. Ford should be in no doubt that people are prepared to take action."

Salaried staff belonging to the two unions voted 63 per cent in favour of a strike in a turnout of 76 per cent. More than 99 per cent also supported industrial action short of walkouts.

The unrest comes at a bad time for the company, which is trying to cut costs throughout Europe because of heavy losses. Analysts expect that at least one of the company's plants may be closed.

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