LucasVarity employees threaten wave of action

Industrial unrest follows merged company’s reorganisation of UK production

By Arlene Foster

Workers at several UK factories within the LucasVarity group are set to take disruptive action next week. The move is intended to win recognition for trade union, the T&G at Lucas SEI’s Sunderland factory and draw attention to pay discrepancies.

Unofficial walkouts have taken place at the Pontypool factory of the group’s Braking Systems division. But the company denies that there are any official industrial disputes in the offing.

The union is particularly unhappy with how management within Lucas SEI – a 50-50 joint venture between LucasVarity and Sumitomo Electric Industries of Japan – conducted the transfer of 1,400 jobs last year between its Newcastle-under-Lyme and Sunderland factories. The transfer was designed to expand production at its Sunderland base.

`Handling of this process has been unprofessional, cackhanded and utterly unproductive,’ said T&G national secretary Jim Mowatt. The union claims that managers had not wanted to recognise any union at the Sunderland site, which opened two years ago. Following pitches by several unions, the company entered `a closed agreement with the AEEU,’ said Mowatt. The unrest follows the merger of Lucas Industries with US-based Varity last year and focuses on separate issues at a number of sites.

This week, Lucas announced the loss of 86 jobs at Newcastle because of a downturn of car industry orders. This news has added to fears by its 2,064 workers that it could lose work to Sunderland. Employees there earn on average £30 per head below Newcastle rates.

Workers at Newcastle also fear their jobs could be at risk from a new wire harness plant opened by Lucas in Poland last March. They claim the company has been winning contracts with Rover and Honda by quoting Polish labour rates that average £47 a week versus Newcastle’s £130. `Ultimately, design and engineering could go to Poland,’ said T&G staff convener Ron Foulkes.

David Boulton, general manager of Lucas SEI in Poland, said that extending operations overseas would safeguard UK jobs. `We can sell the more complex systems to our local UK customers and produce simpler systems overseas.’ he said.