Opposing views: Unite union's Davey Hall and Nissan's Trevor Mann
Car manufacturer Nissan has announced it is to axe about a quarter of the workforce at its Sunderland plant.
The company, which sent workers at the site home early before Christmas to cope with the economic downturn, said it will cut 1,200 jobs.
The plant opened in 1986 and is a major employer in the North East with about 4,900 workers.
The Unite union described the announcement as "devastating news for workers and their families".
Those to lose their jobs include 400 staff on temporary contracts.
Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, said: "Today's announcement shows just how serious Britain's economic difficulties are.
Some 800 jobs were created at the plant just one year ago
"Unite will be doing everything possible to minimise compulsory redundancies and it is absolutely crucial that these workers' skills are not lost."
Nissan sold 66,336 new cars in the UK in 2008 - only 0.14% fewer than in 2007.
However, its sales for December 2008 fell 26.68% compared with the same month in 2007. This compared with an average decline across the industry of 21.2%.
A spokesman for the company said: "Nissan has notified the Local Works Council and the Unite union of its intention to reduce overall production headcount by around 1,200.
"The statutory consultation period will determine how best to adjust permanent headcount, but it is hoped that this can be managed on a voluntary basis."
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said everything would be done to help the Wearside workforce.
"I appreciate that this will be a tough time for workers.
"Together with One NorthEast, we will help any employee find alternative opportunities as quickly as possible.
"We will also be working with Nissan to secure new investment for Sunderland and to make sure that the UK is best placed for the upturn and re-creation of jobs as the economy improves."
A year ago 800 jobs at the Sunderland plant were created in response to demand for its new Qashqai model.
But in December, the firm halted manufacturing of two of its models and sent production staff home on full pay.
The job cuts announced on Thursday were made at the same time Nissan in Japan unveiled a new £107,000 luxury sports car, which it said was a bargain compared with European rivals.