Industrial action is looming at two British car plants owned by General Motors and BMW.

At Luton, Vauxhall workers are to vote on strike action over GM’s plan to end car production with the loss of 2,000 jobs after their unions failed to convince General Motors’ European president Mike Burns at a meeting in Zurich yesterday that the decision should be reversed.


Meanwhile, BMW management spent Monday locked in talks with union officials in an effort to avert industrial action at its new MINI plant in Cowley, after workers narrowly rejected a new pay and productivity deal.


BMW is reportedly hoping to settle the dispute once details of the offer are explained more fully to staff.


Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), told the BBC that the Vauxhall unions had made a strong case in Switzerland but the company’s European headquarters management was sticking by its original decision.


“The company has left us with no alternative but to seek a ballot for industrial action,” Mr Morris said.


“It has taken the decision within the context of a European problem, but it means workers at Luton are being treated very badly.”


The union has argued that UK workers are taking the brunt of the GM cutbacks in Europe and that these should be more evenly shared with other plants on the Continent.


Speaking to the BBC, GM Europe president Burns said that industrial action would not help the situation and he called for “cool heads” in dealing with the Luton factory closure.


He said he realised the ending of car assembly at Luton was “very tough”, but the case was “compelling”.


Luton workers are likely to receive strong support from unions in the other European GM plants located in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Poland. A continent-wide day of action is planned for 25th January and there will also be a union-organised protest march in Luton on Saturday.


The Vauxhall union leaders now plan to go to Detroit to meet GM CEO Rick Wagoner.


At the BMW plant in Cowley, a spokesman said the proposed new pay deal was the best in the UK motor industry for the past 12 months, giving the 3,000 workers rises of at least 10% over two years, including extra shift allowances.


In return, workers would have to agree more flexibility on working schedules, including the prospect of Saturday production when necessary, to boost productivity to the level of BMW plants in Germany. Performance-related pay would also be introduced at Oxford under the new deal.


The proposal is similar to that once made for the Rover plant in Longbridge, when it was owned by BMW. That, too, ran into stiff union opposition and was only resolved when BMW threatened to close the factory.


“We are talking to union leaders and we are optimistic of resolving this in due course,” a BMW spokesman in Munich told the BBC.


The company has denied it was threatening to close the factory because of the dispute but it has reportedly halted plans to make any further investment until the matter is resolved.


BMW Oxford workers rejected the new deal 51% to 49% in a recent ballot but talks between unions and management are continuing.