The rapid departure rate of workers to new jobs has prompted PSA Peugeot-Citroen to bring forward the closure of its Ryton, UK, 206 assembly plant to January 2007. The shutters had originally been scheduled to go up next summer.

"With almost a quarter of the remaining workforce having asked to leave the company during the past weeks, PSA Peugeot Citroën has today announced to employees that activity at the plant will cease in January 2007," the company said on Tuesday night.

"Since moving to one shift in August, the company has received an increasing number of requests to leave from employees wishing to start new jobs and the rate of these requests is accelerating. This situation has prompted the group to review the timing of the end of activity at Ryton."

PSA said a partnership between itself, the government and local agencies currently has "more than 6,000 pre-qualified job opportunities available" while a further 100 redeployment opportunities are on offer at PSA within the Coventry area. It said it would operate the outplacement service as long as necessary.

"Production at Ryton has already been reduced to 160 cars per day to provide enough flexibility for staff to leave as and when they wish," PSA added.

Unions representing Peugeot workers were meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss their next move and are planning a demonstration in Coventry on Saturday, according to Sky News.

The TV news channel said that Peugeot had had to take on 150 temporary workers to fill the gaps of people leaving.

The trade unions have "bitterly attacked" the announcement as "callous" and stepped up their call for drivers to boycott Peugeot cars in protest, Sky News said.

Dave Osborne, Transport and General Workers Union national secretary for the car industry, told the broadcaster the company had told union officials the plant will close on 8 January.

"Peugeot have confirmed their reputation of callous cynicism with this news. How can they expect customer loyalty when they treat people this way? They can't," he reportedly said.

"Peugeot built hopes up that there would be work well into next year if people wanted it. But they have dashed those hopes and, worse, denied our members the chance to look for work in the knowledge there was a reasonable income coming in.

"It is not the sort of pre-Christmas present anybody wants, especially as the workforce has been loyal over many years. They deserve better."

Calls to the union's press office were not answered on Wednesday morning.