Aston Martin, purveyor of luxury cars to the Prince of Wales and James Bond, is facing the first strike in its history.
Workers at the company's two plants are angry over the introduction of what they call "Martini" shifts - a reference to a classic advertisement for the vermouth beloved of "007". They believe the company wants them to work "any time, any place, anywhere".
More than 450 production workers at Newport Pagnell, near Milton Keynes, where the Vantage model is manufactured, and Bloxham, near Newbury, which produces the DB7, are due to walk out today for three hours.
John Street, regional official for the Transport and General Workers' Union, warned there could be longer strikes if the company refuses to negotiate. Management wants employees to adopt a flexible system of working so that they could be required to work extra hours with a day's notice and come in occasionally on Saturdays. "My members are telling me that they have never worked on Saturdays and see it as a day they spend with their families. They are not prepared to give it up," said Mr Street.
He pointed out that the strikers make cars which sell for between £100,000 and £165,000, but work longer hours for less money than other colleagues in the Ford luxury cars group, of which Aston Martin is now a member.
Aston Martin production staff are paid up to £18,000, some £2,500 less than colleagues at Jaguar, another Ford subsidiary. They work 39 hours a week compared with an industry norm of 37, Mr Street said.
Tim Watson, a spokesman for Aston Martin, said: "We are not proposing extra hours so much as more flexible work patterns."
Continuing the MartiniJames Bond theme, a spokesman for the union said after talks with the company yesterday: "Management were shaken but not stirred."
Ulrich Bez, Aston Martin's chief executive, said the union members' response was very disappointing. He said the proposals were designed to improve Aston Martin's competitive performance and that the union leadership initially recommended acceptance.
"Aston Martin is entering the most significant and exciting period of change in its entire 89-year history. It is therefore sad that when we are about to enter one of the brightest points in the company's future that we have 175 union members out of a total workforce of nearly 1,000 voting not to accept these standard industry practices."
In 2005 the company is planning to launch a smaller vehicle to rival the Porsche 911 and to step up vehicle production from about 1,500 a year to 5,000.
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