AuthorTopic: Eight weeks or else...?  (Read 1049 times)

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ChrisW

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Eight weeks or else...?
« on: May 27, 2004, 22:35:20 »
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Ford today told 8,000 stunned workers at Land Rover's giant Solihull plant: "You have just eight weeks to save your jobs."

The US giant's most senior executive in Europe delivered the ultimatum to shocked management and unions at the famous Lode Lane factory.

Mark Fields demanded that both sides came up by August with a "road map" for big improvements to bring the plant up to world class standards.

Without agreement, the 4x4 car making plant would be starved of investment and left at serious risk of closure, he said.

Mr Fields said: "The transformation of Solihull into a competitive facility is fundamental to Land Rover's future success and I have given the plant eight weeks to draw up the road map.

"I will review the road map in two months time and if it truly is a firm commitment to continuous future improvement it will have my full support and endorsement."

The shock warning came as thousands of visitors flocked to the public opening of Birmingham Motor Show just a few miles down the road at the NEC.

Some observers immediately drew parallels with BMW's dramatic announcement at the show six years ago when it warned that the axe was hovering over Longbridge.

That precipitated the crisis which eventually led to BMW ditching its Rover operations.

Today Matthew Taylor, Land Rover managing director, who was in the meeting with Mr Fields, said there had been a "very frank but extremely positive set of discussions between management and unions".

He said both sides had been told that it was "crunch time for Solihull".

He added that the company was in one of the fastest growing markets in the car industry with sports utility vehicles set to rise by 40 percent over the next five years.

But he warned that Solihull would have to take significant measures to bring its competitiveness and quality up to world standards.

The company has missed many of the standards expected of global car producers and is way behind rivals and especially its near neighbour and fellow Ford subsidiary Jaguar.

Asked what would happen if the work force was unable to agree the way forward in the next two months, Mr Taylor said: "Nobody is contemplating such a scenario."

But he added: "If we are unable to produce a plant that has world class standards, investment decisions will be made on where we are and inevitably it will mean the steady decline of investment coming into the plant and put pressure on long term viability."

The plant has suffered poor industrial relations over the last few years with demands for productivity and quality improvements being the subject of tortuous negotiations.

There was strike action earlier this year over pay and flexibility issues.

The workforce was infuriated last summer when Ford announced that it was switching production of the new Free-lander to the Jaguar plant on Merseyside by 2006.

Dave Osbourne, senior TGWU national negotiator, today insisted: "It is wrong to say all of this has to be done in eight weeks.

"We are talking about a road-map for on-going discussions with the objective of reaching best-in-class levels in five years."

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