Toyota UK has denied it is to axe permanent staff at its UK factories following reports from Japan that there would be a cull at US and British factories.

The UK unit said in a statement: "Toyota has a policy to make every effort to maintain stable employment for our permanent employees. In response to media speculation, we can confirm that we have no such plans within the UK.

"We are adjusting to trends in supply and demand by adapting our operations flexibly through modifying overtime, production, shifts, release of temporary workers and the like."

Toyota employs around 5,000 workers at Burnaston in Derbyshire and another 700 at an engine plant in Deeside, north Wales.

The company has already announced it will have four non-production weeks in the coming months in response to the global slump in car sales.

A Toyota spokesman in Japan earlier on Friday declined to comment on media reports the automaker was considering reducing the number of permanent employees, mainly at factories in North America and Britain, through a voluntary retirement programme.

Sources told news agencies the programme might target about 1,000 workers though details had yet to be worked out.

The Toyota Japan spokesman had said nothing had been decided.

Though most Japanese automakers have laid off most or even all temporary workers in Japan, it is rare for them to lay off permanent staff even in tough times. Toyota recently furloughed staff in the US for up to three months but kept paying them as they worked on maintenance, training and on community projects such as sprucing up parks.

Kyodo News said any permanent staff layoffs would be the first time Toyota reduced its regular employees since 1950, when the automaker did so in Japan. It also cut permanent employees in Thailand in 1997 during the Asian currency crisis.

As the global sales fall accelerates, Toyota is sharply curtailing output in North America and Britain, and is now considering reducing excess workers there as quick demand recovery is unlikely, the sources were quoted as saying.

The automaker currently employs about 29,000 people in North American production facilities.

Nissan earlier this month announced plans to cut 1,200 jobs at its British plant.

Last month, new vehicle sales plunged 37% from a year earlier in the United States and 26% in Europe.