Nissan said the sharp downturn in Continental car markets and the lack of any signs of recovery next year meant it had to increase natural wastage among the workforce of 4,600 at Sunderland.
The car maker has already scrapped the night shift at Sunderland in response to a 20 per cent fall in European sales and intends to cut planned production next year by up to 25 per cent to between 200,000 and 240,000.
Nissan said the number of jobs it would shed depended on how many employees took up the offer. But if output only reaches 200,000 next year and Nissan returns to normal shift working, up to 600 jobs could be lost.
The latest job losses at Swan Hunter come on top of the 700 redundancies already announced since the receivers arrived in May, and were blamed on the completion of the first of three Type 23 frigates that the yard is building for the Navy.
Under the novel job-shedding scheme at Nissan, employees will be entitled to six months' severance pay - equivalent to about pounds 7,500 for shopfloor manufacturing staff.
Ian Gibson, managing director of Nissan Motor Manufacturing, said: 'It is a milestone for employee relations in the UK to have established a programme which enables us to say to everyone at Nissan 'If you want a job you have it' while also being able to offer employees the chance to make a new start in their working lives should they choose.'
Staff turnover at Sunderland is running at only 4 per cent a year, equal to about 200 workers. In some parts of the plant, such as the press shop, it is as low as 2 per cent.
Nissan intends to continue without the four night shifts a week in January and February and then to plan production based on how many workers have agreed to leave. Peter Wickens, the personnel director, said: 'It is our responsibility as managers to give security to those people who stay, that is absolute. It may give us a little difficulty but the long-term benefits will far outweigh the short-term problems.'
The average age of the workforce at Sunderland is 29, while the number of people aged over 50 is less than three dozen. All staff will be eligible to apply, although the bulk of the reductions will be sought among the 2,400 manufacturing staff.
The Nissan plant, opened in 1985, has been struggling to cope with the downturn in demand since the start of the year. Staff who left were not replaced, while some 200 workers surplus to production requirements were put on training courses, sent to Nissan's technology centre in Cranfield and its pre-delivery inspection site in Amsterdam or set to work marshalling unsold cars in the compound next to the Sunderland factory.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content