Ford workers put on three-day week

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The Independent Online
ABOUT 5,000 workers at Ford's Halewood plant on Merseyside have been put on a three-day week for the rest of the month as fears grow that the industry's climb out of recession is slowing.

And at Ford's factory at Dagenham, Essex, no cars will be produced this Friday nor on another Friday, yet to be announced, later this month. The news hit shares in components suppliers and car distributors, with GKN, Lucas and Lex among the biggest casualties.

Although rival car makers Rover, Vauxhall and Nissan said they had no plans to introduce short-time working, analysts believe they could be forced to extend the annual Christmas break.

'Sales in the UK and Europe have not been as strong as some companies hoped, so there will have to be a certain amount of destocking,' an analyst said. 'But it is not serious and the effect on shares has been overdone.'

Ford blamed a fall-off in demand in the domestic market, but said exports had also been disappointing. At Halewood, which makes Britain's top-selling car, the Escort, production will stop on Thursdays and Fridays.

No workers will be laid off but will perform non-production duties or attend training sessions instead of building the usual 800 cars a day. The 8,000 workers at Dagenham produce up to 1,000 Fiestas a day.

A Ford spokesman said: 'The UK market is not performing as strongly as had been anticipated despite a reasonably good August for Ford.' The home market has been driven by the fleet sector. Retail demand, strong at the start of the year, has fallen due to April's tax rises and interest rate fears.

Ford captured 22 per cent of the British new car market in August, when the Escort and Fiesta were top sellers. Total M-registration car sales of just over 450,000 were 50,000 below forecasts, but still the third-highest August ever.

Tomorrow the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders will announce September's sales figures which should, if the early part of the month is an indication, offer the industry encouragement.

The SMMT still predicts that total 1994 sales will be around 1.95 million. This would be down on the record 2.3 million in 1989, but up on the 1.59 million in 1991 and 1992 and 1.78 million sold last year. 'We don't think we're doing too badly,' it added.

Rover said its sales in Continental Europe so far this year were 23 per cent up and sales elsewhere abroad were 53 per cent ahead.