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UK (updated 13:50GMT): Land Rover workers await Ford word on plant future

By just-auto.com editorial team | 8 September 2004

Land Rover workers should learn the fate of their plant at about 17:00 GMT on Wednesday, according to a local BBC station lunchtime report.

The BBC said that management of Land Rover owner Ford will announce whether a revised 'road map' is enought to save the plant.

The first road map was rejected last week by Mark Fields, executive vice-president of Ford Europe and the Premier Automotive Group, and Joe Greenwell, chairman and chief executive of Jaguar and Land Rover. They reportedly said progress had been "encouraging" but the unions and plant management, also criticised by Ford, had not gone far enough.

But the BBC said the atmosphere outside the plant on Wednesday afternoon was "quite positive".

"That road map has now been revamped and we are told it comes very close to what Ford have actually asked for which could mean that that the plant will stay open," the a BBC reporter told viewers.

The BBC noted that any deal has to be balloted by union members. Pointing to the "Get Stuffed" response by an unnamed stop steward that made headlines in a local paper on Tuesday, the broadcaster added that there were no guarantees the deal would actually be accepted by the workforce.

Interviewed by the BBC, David Stevens, president of Solihull's chamber of commerce, said closure of the Land Rover plant would definitely affect the area's economy as it would hit suppliers both locally and in the West Midlands.

Stevens urged Ford to consider the revival that had been achieved at Jaguar in recent years and to give Land Rover the same chance.

Earlier, the local Birmingham Post newspaper said union leaders involved in negotiations with the management to improve working practices, productivity and quality to secure the future of the Lode Lane plant, which has 8,000 production workers, appeared confident of success.

Changes to working practices have been a contentious issue but the Post said it understood agreements have been reached on nearly every one of the points raised by Ford.

The outstanding "small bits will be hammered down" before Wednesday's meeting, the paper said, adding that a meeting of the joint unions' committee was held at Lode Lane and optimism was running high that this time there would be a successful outcome.

The newspaper said a report was given to plant shop stewards, including some who are calling for workers to reject the road map when they are asked to vote for its approval - after the meeting the committee said in a statement that it had been "extremely positive".

The Post said rejection of the plans if they go to ballot will be strongly supported by a small but vocal hardline group of shop stewards at Lode Lane who reportedly say they speak for most of the workforce.

The paper noted that Ford has already told workers it will stop investing in the plant and it will go through a steady decline if the road map is not accepted.

The Post said the new demands by Ford, accused by some workers of rejecting the first road map to wring out extra concessions, will drag the workforce into operating at a higher level of competency against competitors who are already achieving better quality output.

Ford reportedly has invested £450 million (about $US798,000) into the Lode Lane site since it bought the business from BMW Group in 2000 for £1.8 billion.

Claims that Ford had a plan to move production from Solihull if it rejected the road map and set up production at another plant within 30 days have been described by industry experts as "impossible", the paper said.

The Post added that Jaguar, which has put its Birmingham workers on a three-and-a-half day week, has been handed a "substantial" wage demand by unions. The joint claim, on behalf of the T&GWU, Amicus and GMB, reportedly does not specify a pay increase figure but does contain a shopping list of proposed improvements on pensions, holidays and working time.

Land Rover workers wait for Wednesday announcement