HC Deb 28 November 1968 vol 774 cc724-6

Mr. Alan Lee Williams (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity by Private Notice whether she will make a statement on the continuance of the Girling brake strike.

The Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

A stoppage of work involving 22 machine setters and five inspectors who are members of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers has been in progress at Girlings Limited, Bromborough, since 11th November.

I understand that the stoppage occurred when machine setters refused to accept an instruction from a charge-hand, who is a member of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, to operate an oil valve and the chargehand himself did so.

My Department has been in close touch with the unions and the management since the stoppage began. These discussions culminated in meetings on 20th November, at which it was clear that no immediate settlement of the main issues was possible and, in view of this, I appointed a court of inquiry, under Professor Robertson, to investigate the causes and circumstances of the dispute.

After further discussions the same day on an interim basis for an immediate resumption of work, the A.E.F. agreed to advise its members to resume work immediately. This advice was rejected by the men on strike on 21st November, and they have since confirmed their attitude, despite the fact that the Executive Council of their union has strongly urged them to return to work at once.

Because of the stoppage the company has laid off 500 employees. Since the plant supplies disc brakes for the car industry, production and employment in motor assembly firms are seriously threatened. The Ford Motor Company has announced that 5,000 employees will be laid off from next Monday. I understand that other assembly firms are reviewing the position daily.

It is tragic that employment, production and exports should be jeopardised by a strike which is being continued against the advice of the union concerned.

The court of inquiry which is holding hearings tomorrow and Saturday will be making a thorough and impartial investigation of the causes and circumstances of the dispute. I therefore strongly urge the men on strike to follow the advice of their union and resume normal working immediately.

Mr. Williams

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. I know that she is doing everything possible to settle the dispute. As she rightly states, 5,000 workers, not involved in the dispute, will be laid off on Monday as a result of this stupid inter-union dispute. Could she work out a formula to try to settle the strike and not wait until the result of the inquiry?

Mrs. Castle

We have tried that and we have also tried to find a formula on which work could be resumed pending the outcome of the court of inquiry. We worked out a formula with the management which was acceptable to the A.E.F. Executive, but, unfortunately, it has not been accepted by the men on strike.

I have today spoken to the President of the A.E.F., and I am happy to tell the House that he is at this moment in touch with his local officials with a view to arranging a meeting with the strikers at the earliest possible moment, at which he will urge them to return to work.

Mr. R. Carr

Does not the right hon. Lady feel that this strike is an example which raises an important matter of principle? Does she think that it is right any longer that the legal immunity originally given, and rightly given, to protect unions in disputes with employers should continue to be given to protect unions in disputes with other unions which cause great damage to the country?

Mrs. Castle

We all know the views of the right hon. Gentleman and the party opposite which have been worked out in the document "Fair Deal at Work". I do not believe that the proposals in that document would be of any value in a situation of this kind. Therefore, it is essential to look at these questions completely objectively and constructively. That I am doing in the context of the Donovan Report.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that disputes in factories belonging to this company have been perpetual in the past few months? Will she see that the inquiry focuses attention on the obvious inadequacy of the managements of these factories?

Mrs. Castle

The court of inquiry will be looking into the general complaint about industrial relations in this company, and I am sure that its report will prove of general value.

Mr. Howie

As the widespread ramifications of this strike go far beyond the men immediately involved, can my right hon. Friend say whether the general secretaries or executives of the two unions mainly involved have come together with a view to evolving a common policy towards the strikers and, if not, will she order them to do so?

Mrs. Castle

I do not think that the general secretaries of the two unions have come together. There have been continuous talks in which both unions and the management have been involved. My concern is to get a resumption of work, not to discuss the merits of the dispute. That will be a matter for the court of inquiry.

I am grateful to the President of the A.E.F. for the urgent action that he is taking today. Once again, I appeal to the strikers, through this House, to resume work so that all aspects of this matter can be studied objectively by the court of inquiry.