27 November 2003 | Simon Binns
Purchasers at Nissan in Wearside could soon go on strike in what would be the first industrial action at the award-winning car plant since it opened in 1986.
The Japanese car giant wants to move its 60-strong purchasing department 240 miles from the plant in Sunderland to its engineering and design centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire.
A spokesman for Nissan said the move is part of a global strategy to have procurement work more closely with both engineering and design to ensure they have more input in product development at an earlier stage.
"The objective is to meet more stringent new model cost savings targets," he said.
"It should mean that purchasing has closer relationships with these departments than they have now in Sunderland."
Purchasers have until January to decide whether they wish to relocate.
Their move will coincide with that of 11 purchasers from the Nissan Europe headquarters in Paris and three from its manufacturing site in Barcelona.
Eventually about 80 procurement staff will be in Cranfield, leaving only a skeleton purchasing administration staff at the other locations.
But the union Amicus, which says it represents 70 percent of the purchasers as well as 30 per cent of the 4,500 workforce at the plant, is angry that there has been no consultation with members.
Davey Hall, Amicus northern regional organiser, said the majority of purchasers have strong family ties to the north-east and are not prepared to start a new life 240 miles away.
"It is ludicrous for the company to do so and there has been no consultation whatsoever," he said.
Nissan said it understands the move is a "major decision" and consultation was continuing.
"There will be no loss of employment rights and we are currently in discussion with the employees and their elected representatives," said the spokesperson.
"Our incentives to move are generous - for example, up to £7,500 of relocation allowances and six years' mortgage support. We have made it clear that if people do not wish to move, every effort will be made in the next seven months to find them alternative employment at Sunderland."
The 60 UK purchasers were balloted this week on whether to take industrial strike action and, if the answer is yes, what form the action should take.
The result of the ballot will be made public on 8 December.
The threat is particularly acute for Nissan because its UK plant has consistently won awards for being at the top of the league for efficiency among car makers.