THE Government is being urged to seek assurances over British jobs, including hundreds in Ellesmere Port, as General Motors (GM) considers a sale of Vauxhall and Opel to Peugeot-owner PSA Group.
Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, said it was his priority to speak to GM about the impact of the proposed deal would have on Vauxhall’s 35,000-strong UK workforce.
PSA Group, which also owns Citroen and DS, is locked in talks over a “potential acquisition” of GM’s loss-making European arm, as it explores “strategic initiatives” aimed at boosting profits and cutting costs.
Such a deal would see GM exit UK and Europe, while transforming PSA Group into Europe’s second-largest carmaker with a 16% per cent share of the European market.
The US motor giant behind Chevrolet and Cadillac acknowledged talks were taking place, but cautioned that “there can be no assurance that an agreement will be reached.”
Vauxhall employs 4,500 staff at plants in Ellesmere Port and Luton, with a further 300 working in a customer contact centre and 120 at its OnStar headquarters.
About 23,000 people also work in Vauxhall’s retail network, while 7,000 jobs rely on the firm’s UK supply chain.
Mr McCluskey said: “My priority now is to speak to General Motors to seek immediate assurances for the UK plants and this loyal workforce.
“I’ll also be seeking urgent conversations with the Government because everything must be done to secure our world-class automotive industry.”
Mr McCluskey said he was “really disappointed” with how the news of the talks emerged after the GM president gave him personal assurances at the end of last year that there would be no surprises when it came to the future of the UK plants.
“But while this has come out of the blue, we are absolutely determined – UK plants will not be allowed to close,” he added.
“I have no intention of allowing GM to walk away from our plants and workers – so my message to the workers at Luton, Ellesmere Port and the tens of thousands in the wider supply chain is this: remain strong and stay united.
“The UK and the EU are among GM’s biggest markets – if they think that they can walk away from dedicated workers and loyal consumers without a care, they need to think again.”
It comes after Nissan announced in October that it was investing in production of new Qashqai and X-Trail models at Sunderland after receiving Government assurances that EU withdrawal would not affect the plant’s competitiveness.
A PSA spokesman said it has been working with GM on three projects in Europe since 2012, which have delivered “substantial synergies”.
“Within this framework, General Motors and PSA Group regularly examine additional expansion and co-operation possibilities as well.
“PSA Group confirms that, together with General Motors, it is exploring numerous strategic initiatives aiming at improving its profitability and operational efficiency, including a potential acquisition of Opel.
“There can be no assurance that an agreement will be reached.”
PSA Group, which is part owned by the French government and Chinese firm DongFeng Motor, saw its Paris-listed shares jump 5 per cent on news of a potential deal.
Mr McCluskey added: “I also have a message to the UK Government, which is do not sit on the sidelines. Intervene, work with us to create a new future for these plants.
“The French government certainly is not sitting idle – they have a 13 per cent stake in Peugeot and they have given their blessing to this deal.
“We want UK auto workers to feel the same sense that their government is backing them.”
GM said last year that it had to raise UK car prices by 2.5 per cent after the EU referendum result caused the British car industry to hit a “speed bump”.
Commenting on reports that Vauxhall could be sold to PSA, Ellesmere Port & Neston MP, Justin Madders, said: “These reports are of course of concern to everyone working at the Vauxhall factory, although it is important to note nothing has been decided yet.
“I am seeking an urgent meeting with the Business Secretary when Parliament returns next week. I will be asking him to give an assurance that the Government will intervene and do everything possible to protect the future of this plant. The plant has an excellent production record and the UK remains a hugely important market for new sales. Those two facts will hopefully put Ellesmere Port in a strong position for whatever lies ahead."
The Detroit-based firm added that its European arm was on course to break even before the plunge in the value of the pound following the Brexit vote.
Announcing its full-year results last week, it said GM Europe had narrowed losses to $257 million (£206m) in the year to the end of December, from a loss of $813m (£651m) the year before.
GM and PSA Group formed an alliance in 2012 in an attempt to make production more efficient by combining purchasing power and larger scale.
But in late 2013, GM announced it was selling its stake, although the two companies continued working on joint vehicle projects.
GM will make Citroen’s forthcoming subcompact crossover vehicle beginning later this year at its plant in Zaragoza, Spain.
A spokesman for the Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “Speculation over a merger between GM and Peugeot is a matter for the companies involved.
“The Government remains in close contact with GM as we closely monitor the situation.”