Unions are angry at the way BMW gave workers no advance notice of their retrenchment [AFP]
 
At the plant in the town of Oxfordshire, where the famous Mini car is built, an announcement was made on the early hours of Monday, which split the nightshift in two.

From most coming to the end of three hard nights on the assembly line, there was a slight relief their shift was ending an hour early, but a real sense of foreboding was apparent about such an unusual step.

In depth

Workers employed by outside agencies, were told to gather in "block T", far away from the production line in this large complex located 70km north of London.

The staff members employed directly by BMW, the German car manufacturer, were asked to wait where they were.

For them there was bad news - their weekend shifts were ending.

The factory was closing for a week, and when it re-opened it would be moving to a five-day week operation. There was some concern, but overall resignation.

For the outside staff, the announcement was much worse. 

With no protection and no compensation in their contracts, they were told their jobs were finished now.

850 sacked

Essentially they were sacked with immediate effect - 850 people made unemployed - just like that.

A few hours later, on the streets of nearby Bicester I met Ali Naser Datoo, who had worked at the factory for 18 months. 

Now after just a few hours of restless sleep, he was checking recruitment firms, job centres, shop windows, looking for any prospect of work. 

"I understand things are hard and they had to make changes, but why no notice. This wasn't a sudden decision. They didn't decide suddenly on Sunday to do this. We have bills, we have rent, mortgages, commitments. They could plan. They did not give us the same courtesy," he told Al Jazeera.

The Mini is a British icon. The first one rolled off the production line exactly 50 years ago this year, and it soon became the most successful British car.

Hundreds of thousands were made and exported around the world.  They were one of the symbols of the 1960s, when the Beatles and the British accent was everywhere.

Movies set in London showed Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the Mini.

It won the Monte Carlo rally and had a starring role in the movie, The Italian Job.

When they remade the movie, almost everything changed, except the cars.

Production came to a halt in 2000 but BMW who owned the Mini name and the design made a bigger, more powerful version, which proved just as popular around the world.

Industry-wide woes

But the global financial crisis is biting at everything and with people fearing for their jobs, the car becomes something which can go another year without needing to be replaced.

The problems at Mini are reflected elsewhere in the motor industry in Britain.

Honda has closed their plant for four months while Nissan is closing its factory in the northeast of England with 1200 job losses.

The unions are angry at the way BMW made the announcement at Mini, giving people no advance notice their employment was finished. 

They say BMW could never have managed to do such a thing in its home country, that British laws helped it carry out their own "Valentine's Massacre".

There is obviously a legal debate to be had, but debates won't help Ali Nasser Datoo and his friends find their next pay cheque.

Source: Al Jazeera