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BMW sacks Mini 850

Jobless: Mini's Cowley factory is targetted for job cuts in global downturn.

Slow sales force Mini production cuts as BMW cuts workforce

Mini logo17 Feb 2009

BMW this week cut 850 jobs at its Mini production plant at Cowley, near Oxford in the UK, after a 35 per cent global sales slump for the brand in January.

The staff reduction at the British plant that exports 80 per cent of the Mini vehicles it builds follows a major review of operations and also involves the transfer of weekend shift workers to weekday shifts from March 2.

The cuts only affect agency workers, and BMW said there were no plans to make permanent staff redundant.

“While Mini has been weathering the economic downturn, it is not immune from the challenges of the current situation,” BMW said in statement on Monday (February 16).

“Against this backdrop the company felt that a review of its shift patterns was necessary. This decision has not been taken lightly. The plant's union representatives have, of course, been involved in the discussions.”

The Mini brand, which celebrates its 50th anniversary later this year, has been an outstanding success for the BMW Group, which sold 232,425 Mini vehicles in 2008 – a 4.3 per cent increase on 2007 figures.

However, combined with BMW and Rolls-Royce vehicles, group sales were down five per cent last year and a 70,405 sales tally in January represented a 24.2 per cent sales slump on the same month last year, when 92,849 vehicles were sold.

BMW, which acquired the Mini brand when it bought Rover in 1994, closed Mini Plant Oxford, which employs 4700 workers and can produce up to 800 Minis a day, for four weeks over the festive season in response to slowing demand, and recently announced a one-week production stoppage from February 16.

Mini wasn’t the only car-maker in Britain to experience a serious sales decline in January, with Nissan cutting 1200 jobs at its Sunderland plant and Honda ceasing production at its Swindon factory for four months.

BMW’s move attracted union criticism this week, with joint leader of the Unite union Tony Woodley describing the job cuts as “blatant opportunism”.

“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,” Mr Woodley told AP.

“BMW's parent company couldn't attempt this in Germany because it would be illegal to do so. It is a disgrace, therefore, that workers in this country can be so casually thrown to the dole.”

A spokesman for British prime minister Gordon Brown, Michael Ellam, said the government was working on a relief package.

“Clearly this is very disturbing news and all I can say is that the government is doing and will do everything it can to help those affected,” said Mr Ellam of the BMW statement.

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