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British Workers Settle With Ford

February 19, 1988|From Reuters

LONDON — Workers at Britain's Ford factories voted overwhelmingly Thursday to end an 11-day strike that has threatened production across Europe and cost the company $990 million, a Ford spokesman said.

He said unofficial results from nearly all the 22 plants showed 70% had voted to accept a pay package to boost wages by 14% over two years. The 32,500 car makers return to work Monday.

The government welcomed the settlement but warned that large salary hikes could set a dangerous inflationary precedent at a time of mounting labor unrest in Britain.

"My warning to negotiators is to look at the inflation position now, between 3% and 4%, and take that into account when they carry out their wage negotiations," Employment Secretary Norman Fowler said.

The strike, Ford's first in Britain in a decade, caused thousands of layoffs at the company's plant at Genk, Belgium, and threatened supplies to other factories in Europe.

Worries Over Raise

Union officials said the final results of the vote were expected Friday.

"I believe it is a milestone agreement which will set a precedent throughout the manufacturing industry," said Derek Horn, vice chairman of the union negotiating committee.

British newspaper editorials agreed with the assessment. "It is quite possible that companies will decide that 7% is the going rate and not only within the motor vehicle industry," said the Financial Times.

"A settlement of 7% in each of the next two years is somewhat above the general run," the newspaper said.

The Daily Telegraph said approval of the wage package "will throw a long shadow" across industry as a whole and possibly fuel inflation if employers, faced with higher payrolls, pass on increased costs to consumers.

Industry analysts had predicted that the pay package, hammered out by unions and management Tuesday, would be in for a rough ride despite union leaders' assessment of the agreement as one of their few victories over Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Workers Are Angry

Local union representatives at two major Ford plants, Dagenham in London and Halewood in the northern city of Liverpool, recommended rejection of the pay offer as too low, but officials at other factories backed it.

Ford workers defied their unions two weeks ago by rejecting a union-management pay agreement covering three years.

They also were angered by Ford's planned implementation of Japanese-style work teams on the assembly line. The company has backed down on the issue and said the new work methods will not be introduced until they are discussed with local unions.

The Financial Times said the labor dispute, the most serious of several that have erupted recently in various industries, including health service, shipping and coal mining, was indicative of a new militancy among workers.

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