British car industry woes deepen
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UK car industry faces crisis
THE CAR industry in Britain is facing a fresh crisis with BMW bracing for industrial action at its UK Mini and Rolls-Royce plants as fears grow over the future of jobs at Vauxhall’s factories.
A row over pensions has put unions and management on a collision course over strikes at BMW’s plants which produce Minis in Oxford and Rolls-Royce vehicles in Sussex.
The Unite union has raised the prospect of "serious industrial action” over proposals to change workers’ pensions from gold-plated final-salary schemes to less generous defined-contribution plans.
The huge Cowley site turns out more than 200,000 Minis a year, representing almost one in every seven of the cars built in the UK annually.
The Rolls-Royce base in Goodwood is currently at record production levels, with 4,000 cars rolling off its lines each year.
The French PSA Groupe, which owns Peugeot, is considering taking over GM's Open and Vauxhall brands. Picture/AP
The developments come as the future of 4,500 staff building Vauxhall’s Astra cars in Ellesmere Port and Vivaro vans in Luton is in doubt, with the company’s US parent General Motors, in talks about selling its European business to Peugeot of France.
PSA Groupe, which owns Peugeot is thought to be considering a $2bn deal, with half of the total coming in cash and the rest in taking on liabilities.
GM’s Vauxhall and Opel marques have racked up almost $10bn of losses over the past decade and failed to make an annual profit since 2009.
Union chiefs are due to meet BMW directors this week for talks in a final attempt to avoid strikes by up to 7,000 staff, which could damage Britain’s attractiveness as a car manufacturing centre.
BMW already has a plant in the Netherlands making Minis, and serious disruption to UK production could drive capacity there.
Trouble at Mini and Rolls began brewing in the autumn when a consultation vote found 96 per cent of staff were willing to strike if the changes, described as “pensions robbery” by union chiefs, were forced through.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said Mini and Rolls-Royce staff had delivered record production levels.
Executives at BMW have “completely failed to engage” in negotiations about alternative measures, the unions say.
Mr McCluskey said: “The strength of feeling is such that there is a very strong possibility of serious industrial action.” If Monday’s talks fail to secure a compromise, another ballot will be held. Strikes could start in March if the vote is in favour of industrial action.
The Business Secretary Greg Clark met GM executives last week, afterwards calling the talks “constructive”, with the company “recognising the excellent and committed workforce” they have in the UK.
However, industry observers believe the Government could have to make wide-ranging promises to secure Vauxhall’s future after the undisclosed “assurances” that Prime Minister Theresa May gave Nissan last year which resulted in that company announcing new models would be built at its giant Sunderland plant.
-The Sunday Telegraph·