Thousands of production workers at Jaguar Land Rover are being offered leave of up to three months in exchange for a temporary 20 per cent pay cut.
And employees at Solihull, Castle Bromwich and Browns Lane, Coventry, can even apply for new jobs during their sabbaticals from car manufacturing.
The innovative scheme has been drawn up by the Tata-owned company to help stave off the continuing downturn in consumer demand facing the UK car sector.
Night shifts are being cut at Land Rover and workers on the XJ and XK lines at Jaguar are on a four-day production week until the New Year as Tata fights to avoid potential stockpiling of vehicles.
Now JLR bosses have made the sabbatical offer in a move thought to be a first for the UK car industry, which is facing its toughest sales environment for many years.
Land Rover spokesman Mark Foster said: “We see this an an innovative response to current market conditions. Under previous lay-offs, people would have had 24 hours notice to return to work.
“We are saying here that you can have a period where it will be treated like a sabbatical. You can have 80 per cent of your pay and you are not going to be required at 24 hours notice to return to work.
“We are testing the water here and we will have to see what response there is.”
In a statement. JLR said: “It is both prudent and essential for our business that we continue to respond quickly to change.
“Therefore to assist employees and aid operational efficiency during the current disturbances to production schedules, Jaguar Land Rover has made available a short-term sabbatical programme at the Solihull, Castle Bromwich or Browns Lane production facilities.
“The programme provides an opportunity for hourly-paid employees to volunteer for leave of absence for a minimum of four weeks.
“During the period of the sabbatical, they will not be required to attend work and will also be able, should they wish, to take up alternative employment. All participants will be retained by Jaguar Land Rover on the basis of 80 per cent of basic pay.”
The sabbatical offer was announced to JLR employees hard on the heels of a new voluntary redundancy programme, with nearly 200 jobs to be shed across the group.
A Land Rover worker, who asked not to be named, said: “In over 20 years of working here, this sabbatical scheme is unprecedented - we have been taken totally by surprise, and I have never heard of such an offer in the car industry before.
“It’s hard to say what the take-up will be. It’s obviously down to the individual but people here are still very fearful for the future.”