PRODUCTION at Plant Swindon is expected to fall silent today when around 750 BMW employees walk out in a dispute over pensions.
Members of the union Unite walked out in the first day of strike action this morning at the panel production plant in a generation.
This marks the first in a series of 24 hour strikes as part of a programme of industrial action stretching over five weeks over the closure of their pension scheme.
Picket lines have not appeared at Plant Swindon since 1986 when the production line was under the ownership of British Leyland, but today Swindon workers will be joined by colleagues striking at BMW's other production plants in Cowley and Hams Hall in the West Midlands, marking the first ever strike by BMW’s UK workforce.
Workers were asked to take to the pickets outside the plants from early this morning with placards accusing BMW of ‘pension robbery’ and demanding the car maker stops ‘driving off’ with their pensions by forcing through changes which could see some lose up to £160,000 in their retirement income.
Swindon Unite regional officer John McGookin said the union expected all union members - some 750 workers - to walk out across the three shifts throughout the day, with the first shift clocking on at 6am starting the industrial action.
He said: "We are trying to persuade BMW to listen to its workforce. They are not happy with the proposed closure of the pension scheme. They want the company to enter into meaningful talks with them.
"They want to be able to retire with dignity."
He added that it was important members of the public understood that workers had been on a long road toward industrial action.
He said: "We want the public to understand that nobody takes industrial action lightly. This is the first form of action they have taken in a generation.
"The workers want people to understand that this is their last resort."
A spokesman for BMW UK said they "regretted" the decision by Unite to stage industrial action and were hopeful the union’s representatives would return to the negotiating table.
"We have been in meaningful discussions with Unite since September of last year and have put forward a number of options to help staff transition to the proposed new pension scheme arrangements," he said.
"Like many businesses, we know that the costs and risks associated with defined benefit pension schemes makes them unsustainable and unaffordable in the long term.
"The reason we are proposing changes now is so we can protect existing and future pensions for all our staff and ensure the long term competitiveness of our UK manufacturing operations.
"Our door remains firmly open to further talks with Unite to find a resolution that is mutually acceptable to both sides.”
But Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “BMW’s refusal to discuss affordable options to keep the pension scheme open means that for the first time its UK workforce will be taking strike action.
“It is very much the last resort for a world class workforce that takes great pride in making the iconic Mini and world renowned Rolls-Royce motor cars and one which could have been avoided if BMW’s bosses had been willing to negotiate meaningfully with Unite.
“Instead BMW has paid lip service to the concerns of a workforce whose hard work and efficiency has helped the German carmaker achieve record sales amid surging profits and sought to pinch their pensions.
“BMW’s bosses should be under no illusion of the determination of Unite members to defend their pensions. They are in this for the long haul.
“We would urge BMW to drop its 31 May deadline to close the pension scheme and avoid the disruption of continued industrial action by negotiating a settlement which is good for the business and good for the workforce.”
BMW’s plan to close the pension scheme by May 31 comes as latest figures showed a surge in BMW Group’s net profit of eight per cent to €6.9 billion, as well as a record year for Mini sales and a six per cent rise in Roll-Royce sales.