Spanish unions won’t negotiate Nissan’s plans to dismiss 1,700 workers from its Barcelona factory until it provides a “clear” viability plan for the future of the site, which makes the Navara and Pathfinder SUVs for global distribution, according to a leading union official.

The revelations came after Nissan hinted that it could drastically reduce its Barcelona operations in 2012 if the cuts are not approved, arguing that the plant’s labour costs and absenteeism rates are too high to make it competitive.

“We are not going to negotiate anything until a clear future plan is on the table,” Enrique Saludas, secretary general of union Sigen-Usoc, told just-auto on Friday, following the first meeting between Nissan and unions to discuss the issue.

Saludas said the meeting was “unfruitful” adding that Nissan supplied “incoherent” information to back the redundancies and failed to present consultancy studies used to explain the rationale behind the job cuts.

“We are meeting again next Wednesday and hope to have that information or we won’t talk, Saludas said.

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To appease unions, Nissan has offered to re-hire the dismissed workers in two years and pay 50% of their redundancy compensation. Workers that don’t return then will receive the 50% payout.

Saludas branded the measure “absurd” saying that Nissan cannot offer to rehire workers when it doesn’t know how much – if any – production the factory will have in coming years.

Indeed, the site’s future looks increasingly murky as the lifecycle of the Navara, Pathfinder and a van model line ends in 2012.  Already, Nissan expects to cut production to 109,000 units from 180,000 planned this year on the back of sluggish global sales.

“If they don’t assign new products to Barcelona in 2010 then it’s going to be checkmate for the factory,” Saludas said. “We are trying to avoid a closure in two to three years which is why we need a specific industrial plan for the future.”

A Nissan spokesman said the company had presented a coherent industrial plan for the site which calls for investment to adapt it to make more popular and environmentally-friendly small and midsize cars.

He played down reports that Nissan could leave the site in 2012 if the job cuts are not executed.

“We don’t plan this but obviously if the redundancies are not pursued it will be very difficult to improve the site’s competitiveness and attract new models,” he said.

In August, the factory’s absenteeism rates soared to 9.54% which the company said was too high for that type of factory.

Nissan also pays each worker an average of EUR29,417 a year, the Spanish industry’s highest salaries, above Ford, Seat and Renault, which pays EUR24,612 per head and is the country’s best-selling car maker.

“It’s very expensive for the company to maintain its current headcount,” said a Nissan official. “If you add this to the economic recession and a change in consumers’ preferences [for smaller and more eco-friendly cars], Nissan will lose competitiveness in the medium term.”

Ivan Castano Freeman