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Ford, Unions Set Deal; British Strike May End

February 17, 1988|From Reuters

LONDON — Ford Motor Co. of Britain and trade union leaders announced an agreement Tuesday that may end a damaging nine-day strike that has shut the auto maker's 22 British plants and disrupted its European factories.

Union officials said the 32,500 striking Ford workers will vote on a new pay package on Thursday, and predicted that it would be accepted.

"I'm confident that when the workers get the report and they convene at the mass meetings at 9 o'clock Thursday . . . our members will accept the improved offer and see that their sacrifices have been rewarded by a victory and the company's been forced to concede a number of key points," said chief union negotiator Jimmy Airlie.

Management said it hoped production could resume by Monday.

Union officials said a new two-year deal included an immediate 7% pay rise retroactive to November.

The breakthrough was announced at the end of more than nine hours of talks on ending Ford's first strike in Britain in a decade.

Negotiators entered the meeting amid indications that the U.S.-owned company would back down on its demand for a three-year pay and working flexibility deal and settle for a two-year agreement.

Before the strike, Ford had offered a three-year settlement that included a 7% increase this year and hikes equivalent to 2.5% more than inflation in 1989 and 1990.

Ford had linked the deal to improving worker efficiency.

Announcing a deal with the unions, Ford denied it was pressured into compromise by its U.S. parent company.

"There had been absolutely no input, overt or covert. . . . In matters of negotiation, we are our own masters," Ford Finance Director John Hougham said.

The strike has disrupted Ford factories and forced layoffs in Belgium, West Germany and Portugal that rely on parts produced in Britain.

Industry sources said the effects of the dispute--which was costing the company an estimated $70 million a day--had alarmed Ford management in Detroit, which was pressing for a settlement.

Renewed pay militancy in the auto industry, which has been relatively strike-free in recent years, has been fuelled by workers' suspicions that real inflation is higher than the 3.3% level currently claimed by the British government.

Other Labor Disputes

In other labor disputes, Land Rover's 6,000 assembly line workers are due to strike next Monday after rejecting a 14% pay offer spread over two years.

However, unions at Vauxhall, a subsidiary of General Motors, are expected to accept a two-year deal offering between 11.6% and 14.6% despite some support for strike action.

Health service workers, including nurses, staged demonstrations and 24-hour stoppages in London on Tuesday as part of a campaign to force the government to increase spending on the beleaguered National Health Service.

Ambulance drivers refused to cross picket lines at one hospital, but most hospitals in the region were operating normally.

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