Ford walk-out as pay offer is turned down

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The Independent Online
More than 1,000 Ford workers yesterday staged unofficial stoppages in protest at an inflation breaching "final" pay offer worth a minimum of 9.25 per cent over two years.

The walk-outs came as the Government announced that the inflation rate had dropped from 3.9 per cent to 3.2 per cent, as compared with a proposed increase at Ford this year of 4.75 per cent.

Union leaders, who will be expected to repudiate the wildcat action or face stiff legal penalties, professed surprise at the militancy of their members at the Dagenham assembly plant in east London and the normally moderate employees at Southampton.

Senior officials at the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union predicted that while the two plants would revert to normal working today, other divisions of Ford UK, including the parts delivery service based at Dagenham, might decide to emulate yesterday's "spontaneous action".

Union leaders at the Bridgend and Halewood complexes were minded to accept the company's proposals during 12 hours of negotiations on Wednesday, but they were outvoted two to one by representatives from other Ford works.

Plant representatives are to meet next Wednesday to consider the results of a consultation process and are expected to call for fresh negotiations with management.

Some union insiders believe the company will not improve its offer unless there is a substantial majority for industrial action in a ballot.

The proposals would give the 22,000 hourly paid Ford workers a 4.5 per cent rise next year, or the inflation rate, plus 0.5 per cent, whichever is higher. Management also proposed improvements in pension entitlements, but refused to countenance a reduction in working hours from 39 to 37 hours.

Tony Woodley, chairman of the union negotiating team, said yesterday's stoppages were genuinely spontaneous.

Indeed, union officials declared their surprise at the degree of anger shown by some of their members, but said production workers nationally had been responsible for a 100 per cent improvement in productivity in 10 years.

In the Dagenham plant, there has been an 84 per cent improvement in four years, according to a union official.

Ford's proposals will nevertheless fuel expectations elsewhere and will make it more difficult for ministers to keep the lid on inflation. Under the proposals, most production workers would get an increase of pounds 27 a week in the first year.

A spokesman for Ford said he was disappointed that unofficial action was taking place, at a time when the offer was still being considered.

"We hope that normal production will be resumed as soon as possible.

"We are standing by what we said in the negotiations, the offer is final.

"We are not prepared to move on a shorter working week and we have proposed generous improvements in pay and pensions."

The spokesman estimated that the company had lost 800 Fiestas because of the strike at the Dagenham and about 60 Transit vans at Southampton.

Union leaders at Vauxhall are expected to announce on Monday a majority for strike action in protest at a 7 per cent offer over two years.