On the eve of negotiations, workers' representatives indicated that they would agree to radical changes in working practices in exchange for a pledge there would never be compulsory redundancies.
Tony Woodley, negotiator for the Transport and General Workers' Union, said that while he would attempt to 'squeeze' as much pay out of Ford as possible, job security was central to the claim.
Last spring Ford threatened compulsorily redundancies but backed down after threats of industrial action. The union points out that the workforce has shrunk by about 20 per cent in two years through voluntary severance.
Rover has already signed an employment protection agreement and Nissan's Sunderland plant had become the most efficient in Europe with a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies. 'To put it crudely what we want is a jobs-for-life guarantee,' Mr Woodley said.
The Fire Brigades Union yesterday accepted a 1.4 per cent wage rise dictated by the industry's automatic pay mechanism despite indications the employers were ready to pay 1.5 per cent - the Government's upper limit on public sector salaries this year.
The union said the threat of strike action had been based on upholding the pay formula - which ties firefighters' wages to the top 25 per cent of male manual workers - and they had been assured it will be honoured next year.