WORKERS at the Cowley Mini plant are set to vote on a radical change to their shift patterns.

Proposals on the table include switching to shorter, seven-and-a-half hour shifts which union bosses feel would be safer and more productive for the workforce.

The plan would be to introduce the new shift pattern in time for production of the next generation of the car which will start in 2014.

Bosses are on board with the ideas but it would also mean a longer working week for staff, which not all workers would be keen to adapt to.

One worker, who did not wish to be named, told the Oxford Mail: “At the moment the shifts are very long but cutting hours would mean travelling to work five days a week which will cost people more in petrol.

“What they are trying to do is bring in a seven-day week. We originally agreed to do long shifts so we didn’t have to work Saturdays.

“I don’t work on Saturdays for childcare reasons and I would not work on a Sunday on religious grounds.”

Workers are set to be balloted on the proposals in November.

Unite union plant convenor Chris Bond said: “We have done some research and think long shifts are not good for people.

“For the last 11 years the workforce has always gone for longer working days so they can have more time off and the company has agreed to offer the workforce a pattern of shorter working hours.

Mini plant spokesman Wayne Morse said: “There is a discussion about changing shift patterns to a three-shift model in line with other manufacturers in Europe.”

He added that rather than meaning weekend working, the proposals would help avoid it, although he declined to be drawn on details of the system.

Currently the plant operates a two-shift system five days a week. The early shift runs from 6.30am-5pm, while the late shift stretches from 5pm-4.30am.

The current pattern, with workers doing three shifts in a row and then having two days off in between, was introduced in May.

Spiralling demand for the car also led to the recruitment of 150 more agency staff. A total of 3,700 full-time are now employed at the plant along with about 750 agency staff.

l The Mini is set to go Dutch after bosses signed a deal to have the car built in the Netherlands.

Directors at parent company BMW have agreed to have Minis built at the NedCar plant at Born, near the German border. Workers are coming to Oxford in the next few weeks to be trained in Mini production, with the Born factory set to start building Minis in 2014, in time for the launch of the third generation of the car.

The move could mean more than 400,000 Minis in total being produced annually by 2018 — double the amount currently produced at Cowley.

Mini managers say Cowley will remain the car’s spiritual home and centre of production.