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Rover cutting workers, work week

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The automaker Rover is eliminating at least 1,500 jobs and putting some workers on a four-day work week as it tries to offset the damage caused by the high value of the British pound.

Rover, owned by German carmaker BMW, disclosed Thursday it hopes it can reduce its work force, which now stands at about 39,000, through voluntary and early retirements without resorting to forced layoffs.The company will cut jobs by the end of the year in all areas of its business except research, design and engineering.

"These measures will protect the business for the short term without threatening long-term investment - our lifeblood for the future - and will maintain progress toward our strategic objective of profitability by the end of the decade," said Walter Hasselkus, the Rover Group chairman.

Rover said it is also planning to start buying hundreds of millions of dollars in components from abroad - a move that could affect thousands of workers in Britain's automotive sector.

Rover has become more productive since BMW bought it from British Aerospace PLC in 1994, but the high value of the pound has made its automobiles far less competitive in other markets, while making imported cars cheaper for British consumers.

"Our revenue from vehicles sold abroad is reduced, while cheap imports are sucked into our home market," Hasselkus said.

Rover has not specified how much money the unfavorable currency rates has cost it, but British news reports have placed the figure at around $330 million yearly.

"Obviously, it's a great concern to everybody who works for Rover, but the strong pound is killing exports, and it's not just at Rover," said Dave Hillman, a manager at Rover's Longbridge plant.