Ford pays truckers pounds 10,000 as race battle comes to end

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A six-year-old battle between the Ford motor company and union leaders over alleged racism in recruitment ended in a pounds 100,000 out-of-court settlement yesterday.

As part of the deal, seven black and Asian workers who were denied jobs as Ford lorry drivers shared pounds 70,000 in compensation, according to company sources.

The agreement, struck on the day that industrial tribunal cases were about to start, also involves new selection procedures for the pounds 30,000 a year jobs - the highest paid among manual workers at the company.

While some 45 per cent of workers at Ford's Dagenham plant are black or Asian, less than two per cent of the 300 employees of the truck fleet, also based at the Essex complex, come from the ethnic minorities.

In answer to allegations about the recruitment system, the company has agreed that outside independent specialists will help in the assessment and training procedures. The company has also agreed that it's "ethnic monitoring" system will be extended to the truck fleet.

Bob Purkiss, equality officer at the Transport and General Workers' Union, which backed the seven who brought the case, said he was "very happy" with the deal. "We have reached a full agreement with the company and it is now incumbent on everyone to implement it," he said.

He argued that Ford was not among the worst transgressors when it came to discrimination. "Look at the banks, look at the City, where are the black people there?" he asked.

A spokeswoman for Ford conceded that it would be many years before the ethnic mix of lorry drivers would reflect the composition of the main factories at Dagenham because there was a very low labour turnover.

Ford had been accused of acquiescing in a system of recruitment which effectively handed jobs down from father to son, thus excluding ethnic minorities. The truck drivers are generally regarded as the most industrially powerful group of workers in Ford. Because they deliver Ford parts from plant to plant throughout Europe, they can bring the whole operation to a halt within days.

That power has increased in recent years as the "just-in-time" principle of production has reduced the number of components kept at each individual site.

The truck drivers have been highly critical of the TGWU, their own union, and have voted to join the rival United Road Transport Union.

Mr Purkiss was at pains however to point out that the tribunal cases were taken against the company not the truck drivers.

Jack Nasser, chairman of Ford of Europe, has agreed to meet Ian McCartney, Labour's chief employment spokesman and other MPs to discuss the plan to shed 1,300 jobs from Ford's Halewood plant.

Mr Nasser confirmed that he had met Ian Lang president of the Board of Trade, to ask whether grants would be available to pave the way for fresh vehicle production at the Merseyside plant.