Honda UK Manufacturing has followed the local Toyota unit by requesting wage cuts in return for no compulsory redundancies as the key auto workers’ union said its priority was to secure jobs.

The comments came after plant director Dave Hodgetts wrote to workers, currently on a four-month furlough that began in January, offering them again to consider the current ‘Associate Release Programme’ (ARP), in place since last December, offering financial incentives to leave. The company has always insisted ARP is not a redundancy programme and is voluntary.

According to the BBC, the letter to workers said Honda would book a loss of GBP320m for 2009 and added: “We cannot find much encouragement for the next 12 months.

“The seriousness for the global car industry and the unpredictability of what will happen in the future cannot be underestimated.”

Unite’s regional officer, Jim D’Avila, said: “Honda is following Toyota’s lead. In return for no compulsory redundancies the company is asking the staff to accept cuts in pay. No decision has been made. Unite’s priority is to secure jobs and give our members a fighting chance of coming through this economic turmoil with their jobs and livelihoods intact.

“The union will be entering into negotiations with management. We intend to ensure that these discussions are genuine negotiations which seek to produce a realistic outcome.”

“Any decision will not be taken lightly. We expect Honda to ensure none of our members’ benefits are eroded in the long term and that these skilled workers will remain in place and at work ready for when the upturn comes.”

Honda did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The BBC said about 1,000 of the 5,000 Swindon workers had already taken up the ARP offer. The letter added there was “likely to be a one year pay cut for all associates” who remained. Japanese workers have seen pay cut 10%, with senior managers taking a 15% cut and all bonuses suspended.

A Honda UK spokesman confirmed to the BBC the letter was sent but declined further comment.