The key union representing British workers, Unite, has said “the fight begins now” to secure a future for the General Motors plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton which will be sold to PSA as part of the Opel deal confirmed today (6 March).

The sale will also include a facility at Toddington, home to Vauxhall’s customer contact centre and other operations.

At a press conference, PSA Group chief executive Carlos Tavares stressed the opportunities ahead for Opel/Vauxhall plants in the new larger group and played down talk of plant closures and job cuts.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the UK plants “are the most productive in the company’s stable, earning them the right to a future under the new owners”. 

“This has obviously been a very difficult time for the workforce, but their union has been and will continue to work day and night to fight for their interests. Now that General Motors has disposed of its UK sites, our focus switches to working with the new owners to persuade them of the evident merits of our plants and this excellent, loyal workforce.

“I am determined that we can convince the new boss, Tavares, that it makes sense for him to continue to build in Britain. Our plants are the most productive in the European operation, the brand is strong here, the market for the products is here, so the cars must be made here.”

Speaking to TV news channels on Monday, McCluskey acknowledged PSA’s promise to honour current contracts that will see Ellesmere Port make Astras until 2021 and the joint venture, with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, vans at Luton until 2025.

“There is a cautious optimism,” he said. “But of course the real issue is not the current products, it’s about the new models and we’ll be determined to make certain that the British plants have a long term future.

“The current model in Ellesmere Port goes up to 2020/2021 but really it’s this time next year, maybe the middle of next year, (when) we would need to secure acceptance of a new model there. That’s really the challenge for all of us.

“My call to the government is to make certain that our government is at the table, just as the French and German governments will be, batting for their workforce.”

UK business secretary (minister) Greg Clark said: “Vauxhall has a long history of success in this country and we are determined to see that continue. The government welcomes the assurance by PSA that they will respect the commitments made by GM to Vauxhall’s employees and pensioners. We will continue to engage and work with PSA in the weeks and months ahead to ensure these assurances are kept and will build on the success of both sites for the long term.

“The prime minister and I have been in close contact with the PSA Group and General Motors and they have been clear this deal is an opportunity to grow the Vauxhall brand, building on their existing strengths and commitments. 

“I have set out the government’s determination to make the UK one of the world’s most attractive locations for innovative future vehicle technology, including electric vehicles and battery technology – a key part of our modern industrial strategy.”

Ellesmere Port workers and unions worked with Vauxhall to fend off strong competition from rival German plants (with Opel closing Bochum) to win the current Astra contract and there were tough talks before the latest Luton van deal was agreed. Regardless of the PSA takeover, both plants would have needed to make strong and convincing cases for their next build contracts, regardless of ownership.