Vauxhall facing strike threat in battle over pay and hours

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Labour Editor

The Vauxhall motor company was warned yesterday that it will face an overtime ban and a unilateral two-hour cut in the working week unless there is a substantial improvement in an offer on pay and conditions.

In the wake of a strike vote of almost four to one, union leaders have given management until tomorrow to improve its proposals. Vauxhall's manual employees have been offered 3.5 per cent this year with an increase tied to the inflation rate next year, but management has refused to concede a reduction in hours.

Union leaders said that if management did not address the claim, they would give the statutory seven days' notice of disruption, with the company's 10,000 workers taking action from around 30 November.

Tony Woodley, chief negotiator for the motor industry at the Transport and General Workers' Union, said Vauxhall would at least have to match the offer from Ford, which gave workers a minimum of 9.25 per cent over two years, but which had been rejected by the union leaders.

Roger Butler, of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, emphasised the employees' claim for a reduction in the working week from 39 to 37 hours at the company's two plants at Luton and Ellesmere Port on Merseyside.

Bruce Warman, Vauxhall's director of personnel, said the company was "adamant" over its refusal to grant fewer hours because it would mean a reduction in competitiveness. "We are absolutely determined not to reduce hours. It's fundamental to our position. It is not on the agenda." The offer on pay was "fair", and would cost the company around 5 per cent in each of the two years. The package included an extra day's holiday and a new vehicle- leasing scheme. There was no room for manoeuvre, he said.

He registered his concern and disappointment about the vote in which 5,201 opted for strikes with 1,425 against. The vote for disruption short of walkouts was even larger at 5,971 to 684.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the T&G, said industrial action was inevitable unless there was a "substantial improvement" in the offer. "Our members feel very strongly. We will have difficulty in restraining them," he said.

At Ford, union officials are consulting their members at the 13 plants over a two-part offer which gives 4.75 per cent in the first year, and 4.5 per cent or the inflation rate plus 0.5 per cent, whichever is greater, in the second. Officials are expected tomorrow to call for fresh negotiations, but some plants are less enthusiastic about a ballot on industrial action than others.

Ammunition for the unions came yesterday from the Industrial Relations Services research group which found few engineering firms had suffered as a result of cutting hours. Of 21 companies that cut hours as a result of a union campaign in 1989-91, two-thirds suffered no adverse consequences and a third reported it beneficial.