THOUSANDS of BMW workers concluded a 24-hour walk out this morning including up to 1,800 people at Cowley's Mini Plant.

Employees stood at picket lines until 6am at all entrances to the Oxford plant in a bid to stop BMW closing its pensions scheme.

As a result Mini production ground to a halt as BMW stopped its production lines, which normally produce about 1,000 different models of the Mini every day.

Unite union assistant general secretary for manufacturing Tony Burke said: “The solidly supported strike should serve as a wake-up call to BMW’s bosses and underlines the determination of Unite members to defend their hard earned pensions.

“BMW workers are deeply alarmed by the company’s plans which could see some of them lose up to £160,000 in retirement income.

"BMW bosses need to get their heads out of the sand and recognise this is no way to treat a workforce, which has helped deliver record profits and record sales of the Mini and Rolls-Royce motorcars."

It was the first of five planned strikes at the Cowley plant on Sunday, April 23, May 16, May 18 and May 21.

The group are fighting BMW’s plan to close the pension scheme by 31 May 2017.

The strikers lined up with signs and banners outside the main entrances of the plant from the start of their shifts yesterday and blew horns and whistles as cars went past and entered the plant.

At the picket line, Unite national officer Fred Hanna told the Oxford Mail said there had been 'excellent turnouts' for the strike, adding it was 'outrageous and unbelievable' what BMW was 'robbing' off workers.
He added: "Production was stopped. It's a situation we have been forced into by the company. 

"The company has not listened to our good proposals and alternatives to keep the final salary scheme open, so unfortunately as a last resort, this is what we have had to do."

Mr Hanna said it was the company's 'choice' whether they listened the workers, adding: "They have got to listen to us, because there is seven other dates in the next five weeks where we are going to be withdrawing our labour.

"If they want this to come to and end they have got to get us back round the table."

"It's going to be a tough battle, but we are here to fight the fight.

"The workers know the importance of the company's attempt to rob them of their pensions, take away their dignity and respect in retirement."

The industrial action - of which 93 per cent of Unite members backed - is the first of its kind against BMW in the UK.

The Mini production line operates from Monday to Friday with Saturdays and Sundays used as days for other work, such as maintenance to take place.

The strikes were balloted after workers have expressed alarm over plans to scrap its current pension scheme, after several meetings between Unite and BMW saw no agreement reached.

Dave Buston, who works as a tin smith in Body in White, said the pension plans were 'life sucking' for workers doing their jobs.

he 49-year-old from The Slade, Oxford, added: "You give them your best and they just want to take stuff off you.
"When we started the job here, that [the final salary pension] was part of the contract. They are making a ridiculous amount of earnings and we earn it for them."

Mr Buston, who has worked at the plant for 16 years, said he would lose out on about £80,000 to £90,000.

He added: "When you retire you get a lump sum and you can pay off your mortgage. We signed up for this.

"They won't care about our pensions, as far as they are concerned we are just a number."

Previously, union members said that the firm offered a one-off payment of £7,000, but described the figure as a 'drop in the ocean' and 'insulting'.

Communications Director BMW Group Graham Biggs said the company regretted the decision to take industrial action, adding they were 'hopeful' reps would return to the negotiating table.

He added: "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.

"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."