Hundreds of workers at AvtoVAZ, Russia’s biggest carmaker, have demanded the state nationalise the company after management decided to slash wages.

More than 1,500 gathered in the AvtoVAZ’s home city of Togliatti. The company, 25% owned by Renault along with state-owned banks and corporations, has denied it plans massive layoffs but workers’ incomes will be halved from pre-crisis levels from 1 September as hours have also been reduced.

UNITY leader Pyotr Zolotaryev said his union had decided to demand nationalisation. He told protesters: “Let the plant belong to the state, not private owners.”

After a decade-long economic boom, Russia is in recession. Unemployment has soared and protests have erupted. Russia’s car market was until recently Europe’s fastest growing but has seen sales tumble by around 60% and AvtoVAZ stopped its production line for all of August.

Workers were told they would work a 20-hour week from September which will halve wages to 21,931 roubles (US$706).

The company earlier denied reports it planned to lay off 27,691 people, a quarter of its staff.