Unions were braced last night for cutbacks at Mini's car plant near Oxford, leading to hundreds of workers being laid off in the latest blow to the motor industry.
The famous car brand was reported to be ready to make 850 staff redundant. Agency workers are expected to bear the brunt of cuts at the company's factory at Cowley, which employs 4,500 staff. The BMW-owned firm has talked with unions over changing current work pattern of three shifts a day for seven days a week.
The factory will stop producing cars for a week after last night's late shift in response to the sharp dip in motor sales caused by the recession. Almost one-third of the Cowley workforce are agency staff and they are expected to be targeted first with the cuts. Many would leave with little or no payoff.
An announcement about job losses is expected as early as today, bringing more grim news to an industry which has axed thousands of workers recently as sales plunge and businesses have been starved of credit.
Unions and the Confederation of British Industry have called on the Government to speed up measures to get credit flowing again to stop the recession devastating the UK motor industry, which employs 210,000 people in the design and manufacture of vehicles and components.
Derek Simpson, joint leader of the union Unite, said the cuts at Mini showed how savagely the recession was affecting the industry, given that BMW was a "hugely profitable" firm and Cowley was an efficient factory.
"There is a huge onus on the Government to take drastic action to support the motor industry and to encourage people to buy cars.
"The banks will also have to start making credit available again or this is going to lead to disaster." Mini confirmed to the Press Association that talks had been held with unions over possible changes to shift patterns, adding reports of specific numbers of job cuts were "speculation".
The Mini celebrates its 50th anniversary in August of this year.
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