Ford workers throw down pay gauntlet

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The Independent Online
BARRY CLEMENT

Labour Editor

Workers at Ford's biggest plant in Dagenham yesterday overwhelmingly rejected a pay offer worth a minimum of 9.25 per cent over two years.

More than 92 per cent of the 9,000 blue-collar workers at the Essex works, who make up nearly half of Ford's British workforce, voted to turn down the deal which gives 4.75 per cent in the first year and 4.5 per cent in the second year or the increase in the Retail Price Index plus 0.5 per cent, which ever is greater.

The news came as 1.5 million local authority employees tabled a claim for a pounds 4.15 minimum wage as part of a package that would add an estimated 6 per cent to the pounds 9bn pay bill.

While public service unions are seeking the increase from next April, it could hold serious implications for the Labour Party if it forms the next government in 18 months time. The party has been warned that if local government workers' aspirations are not met immediately, they will resurface under a Labour administration.

In the motor industry, Ford workers are waiting the outcome of fresh talks at Vauxhall scheduled for next Wednesday - the same day as an overtime ban is due to begin. Vauxhall management has offered its 9,000 manual workers 3.5 per cent this year and an increase matching the inflation rate next year. Both Ford and Vauxhall have refused to address claims for a reduction in the working week from 39 to 37 hours.

Steve Hart, district officer for the Transport & General Workers Union at Dagenham, said his members were convinced that the 9.25 per cent Ford offer did not compensate them for a considerable improvement in productivity.

"The offer does not meet the claim. If management proposed a 10 per cent increase and there was no concession on hours, they might be prepared to accept. However, management should be aware that their employees are very concerned about working time."

While Dagenham and other small Essex plants have overwhelmingly rejected the proposed settlement as part of a consultation process, other works such as Halewood on Merseyside and Bridgend in South Wales are minded to accept the package.

Union representatives are due to meet on 12 December to assess the mood of the company's 22,000 blue-collar workers. If they opt for a ballot on industrial action, it would take a month to complete and any disruption would therefore not take place until the new year.

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