UP TO 150 new jobs are to be created at the Mini plant after workers gave the green light to a groundbreaking change in shift patterns.
Union leaders say that from November next year the Cowley works will operate on three shifts of seven-and-a-half hours each, instead of the current two-shift system which can see workers operating for more than 11 hours at a time.
The move has been welcomed by MPs and business leaders as well as workers who balloted in favour of the new shifts which are shorter than any previously seen at the plant.
Unite union plant convenor Chris Bond said: “It is the right choice because people are worn out with the hours they have been doing.
“This gives them back their life. They will feel better for it and it will put some smiles on faces.”
The jobs will be created among agency staff with the new shift pattern meaning there will be no lunch breaks, allowing the plant to operate for half an hour longer each day.
Currently the plant employs about 3,700 permanent staff and 600 agency workers.
Mr Bond added: “The new jobs will be good for Oxford’s economy. Agency workers are on the same pay as regular staff and we are negotiating new contracts all the time.”
Some workers had raised concerns the new five-day-a-week shift pattern would cost them more in fuel, with some having to travel long distances to the plant.
Currently they work three shifts and then have two days off.
Peter Owen, who works in the paintshop at the plant, voted in favour of the shorter shifts.
He said: “It will be better for my health and improve my family life.”
The new shifts will operate from 6am-1.30pm; 1.30pm to 9pm and 9pm-4.30am. The current two-shift system runs from 6.30am-5pm, and from 5pm-4.30am.
Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “The new jobs are extremely welcome. There are not many car plants taking on staff and it shows what a huge success the Mini has been.”
It is the latest boost for one of Oxford’s success stories, which is still taking on employees despite the ongoing financial gloom.
Nigel Wild, president of the Oxfordshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is great news – the Mini has been such a success story and it keeps on going.”
The Cowley plant closed yesterday for an extended Christmas break to allow new machinery to be installed in readiness for production of the new model. It will re-open on January 21.
About 200,000 cars are expected to have rolled off the line this year, more than the 191,000 produced in 2011. The plant has a capacity of 260,000 cars a year and bosses have expanded production to Holland in time for 2014 which could boost production to 400,000 cars a year.
Steve Fowler, editor in chief of Auto Express said: “Mini’s success is down to one thing – the product. It is a quality car that people want to buy. But it is everything from the advertising to the experience at the dealers. The brand has been perfectly handled.”
Paul Everitt, chief executive of the Society of Motor manufacturers and Traders, added: “Plant Oxford is evidence of what happens with long-term commitment and investment, a flexible and dedicated workforce and ultimately the ability to produce a range of cars that people want to buy.”
History of the Oxford plant
IN 1913 cycling enthusiast William Morris set up a car plant in the Cowley area of Oxford to mass produce cars.
Cowley mushroomed into a vast industrial centre and workers flocked to it during the Great Depression.
Demand for cars soared rapidly post-war and the Mini was to make the biggest impact on the British motor industry.
The first classic Mini rolled off the Oxford production line on May 8, 1959.
Between 1959 and 1968, 602,817 Minis were manufactured at Oxford, with a peak output of 94,889 cars during 1966/67.
In 1994 BMW acquired Plant Oxford as part of its purchase of the Rover Group and announced further investment of £280 million.
The manufacturing launch of Mini in April 2001 marked the start of a new phase in the history of the plant.
Since 2000, about £1.5bn has been invested in Mini manufacturing in the UK. It is still the largest industrial employer in Oxfordshire with more than 4,300 workers.
Today, plant Oxford produces five Mini models – Hatchback, Convertible, Clubman, Coupé and Roadster.