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Workers, Birmingham (Dismissal Notices)

Volume 446: debated on Tuesday 27 January 1948

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22.

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that a large number of workpeople employed by the Austin Co., Ltd., Longbridge, Birmingham, have been given notice of dismissal without any prior consultation with either the accredited trade union representatives or the joint production committee; and, as such actions are calculated to cause industrial friction at a time when the national interest demands industrial cooperation, will he take immediate steps to see that machinery is designed to avoid such incidents.

The answer to the first part of the Question is, "Yes, Sir." In reply to the second part of the Question, I would point out that there is well-established constitutional machinery in the engineering industry for the settlement of differences between employers and their workpeople.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the attitude of the chairman and managing director of the Austin Motor Company is one of sheer contempt of the workers, it having been recently stated that it is the directors and not the workers who run the factory? In the circumstances, and in view of the fact that there is no agreement on the issue, is the Minister prepared to call together the various industries, if necessary at the request of the trade unions, for the purpose of arriving at an agreement on this issue which would, at least, give the workers the same security against dismissal as they had during the war?

At the request of the trade unions, we should be most happy to call the industry together to discuss matters of this sort. I think it is unfortunate that a mass discharge should take place without at least some sort of consultation with those concerned. The constitutional machinery of the industry, however, must be used before I have power to intervene.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the statement embodied in the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) is entirely without foundation? Will machinery be set in motion to stop this unfortunate dispute in Birmingham?

I do not want to take sides as to the first part of the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon). As to the second part, the Minister of Labour can intervene only when the constitutional machinery in the industry has been exhausted. Were we to do otherwise, we should cause chaos all over the place. We are willing to intervene as soon as possible, but this industry has a most effective machinery for dealing with problems of this kind.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is felt in Birmingham that this is the thin edge of the wedge, because in the Singer and Rover Motor Works there is much discontent because of the possibility of a wholesale exodus of redundant workers? Something has got to be done.

I hope that what I have said may find a hearing somewhere, and that employers who find that, owing to circumstances, they must of necessity cut down their staffs will at least consult the works councils or their representatives before coming to a decision.

Will my right hon. Friend consider making it compulsory to set up joint production consultative committees, so that all these troubles can be avoided?

We think that committees of that sort are most valuable if they voluntarily work in that way, and that they are likely to be useless if they are compulsory.

Is it not possible for the Ministry to urge upon employers and employees generally that the machinery for conciliation should operate before there are dismissals instead of afterwards?

The hon. Gentleman has put into other words what I have tried to convey to the House.