Peugeot's decision to accelerate the closure of the Ryton car factory six months earlier than planned sparked an angry reaction from workers' leaders last night.

An emergency meeting will be held todayto discuss their next move after the French company decided to bring forward the shutdown after the staff inundated the carmaker with requests to leave.

The factory just outside Coventry will now close in January 2007 rather than the middle of next year, as announced in April.

The move follows a quarter of the remaining 950-strong workforce asking Peugeot if they could leave.

Around 250 people have asked for leaving dates, while another 140 have said they wanted to retire.

Of the 600 other workers, around 450 have requested additional help from Resource Centre, which Peugeot set up on the site to help people find new employment.

But the decision was greeted with anger by unions representing the workers.

Dave Osborne, T&G national secretary for the car industry, said the company told union officials the plant will close on January 8.

He said: "Peugeot have confirmed their reputation of callous cynicism with this news. Peugeot built hopes up that there would be work well into next year if people wanted it. But they have dashed those hopes and, worse, denied our members the chance to look for work in the knowledge there was a reasonable income coming in."

"It is not the sort of pre-Christmas present anybody wants especially as the workforce has been loyal over many years. They deserve better," he added.

Jim O'Boyle, works convenor for the T&G, said: "The behaviour of the company is extremely cynical, saying they are not sacking people but doing this to help them to find alternative employment.

"Many people who have left the company have signed on. This is not going to make it any easier for people to find alternative employment."

The T&G said its boycott campaign remained active, while a mass demonstration is due to take place in Coventry on Saturday.

The factory, which builds the Peugeot 206, was reduced to one shift after 817 workers left in the first round of redundancies in August.

A spokesman for Peugeot said: "The resource centre has more than 6,000 jobs available, and there are also 100 jobs available with PSA Peugeot Citroen in the Coventry area.

"There are lots of blue chip companies who are coming to us to recruit from Ryton. We are going to put in every effort to make sure people find employment."

Among the companies believed to be taking on former Ryton staff are BMW and Unipart, which has a large manufacturing site in Coventry.

Dr Brian Woods-Scawen, chairman of the Peugeot Partnership set to deal with the aftermath of the closure, said: "A very robust package of funding has been made available and the Peugeot Partnership will re-double its efforts to help those affected by the closure in finding alternative employment."

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