BMW said nearly a fifth of workers at its plant in Cowley, near London, would be affected by the downsizing starting on March 2 to coincide with a reduction in the working week to five days from seven.
“While Mini has been weathering the economic downturn, it is not immune from the challenges of the current situation,” BMW said in a statement. “Against this backdrop the company felt that a review of its shift patterns was necessary,” it said, adding: “This decision has not been taken lightly.”
Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s spokesman described the news as “very disappointing”, adding: “All I can say really is the government is doing and will do everything it can in order to help those affected… working with the company and the individuals affected to help them retrain and, or find alternative employment.”
Tony Woodley, joint leader of the Unite union, called the manner of the announcement “disgraceful”, with workers claiming they were given only one
“Sacking an entire shift like this, and targeting agency workers who have no rights to redundancy pay, is blatant opportunism on BMW’s part and nothing short of scandalous,” Woodley said.
“BMW’s parent company couldn’t attempt this in Germany because it would be illegal to do so… We will be seeking to meet with the company as soon as possible to fight back against these needless cuts. We will also be keeping up the pressure on our government to do more to protect jobs in this country,” added the union boss.
BMW, which is struggling in its key North American market, previously said that its overall 2008 vehicle sales were down five percent from the year before. Sales of the Mini – which celebrates its 50th anniversary in August – were down by 35 percent in January.
“I feel betrayed” by Monday’s announcement, said John Cunningham, who has worked at the factory for more than two years.
“They’ve planned this for months and we’ve only just been told – one hour’s notice,” he told the BBC. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me and my family. It’s very scary.”
BMW had already decided to halt production of Minis at Cowley from Monday for one week. The plant currently employs about 4,500 workers. Last week, German-owned luxury car brand Bentley said it would axe 220 jobs in England and temporarily cut pay for retained staff by a tenth as it battles sliding sales.
Meanwhile Jaguar and Nissan have also announced major British job cuts in recent weeks, while Honda is closing its factory in Swindon, western England, for four months.
In January, the government unveiled a £2.3-billion (€2.6-billion) support package for Britain’s ailing auto industry.
Sales of new cars in Britain tumbled by more than 30 percent in January as the recession slashed demand for new vehicles, trade data has showed.