Land Rover managers and trade union officials were left dismayed last night after shop floor workers narrowly voted to reject a pay offer said to be the best in the car industry for two years.
The two-year offer which would have seen a typical hourlypaid worker's wages rise by 4.3 per cent was rejected by 52 per cent to 47 per cent on a 75 per cent turnout of the 7,300-strong workforce.
The package - described by Land Rover last night as a "final offer" - was thrashed out in four days of off-site talks between managers and union officials.
It was given the full backing of the plant's joint negotiating committee and shop stewards.
Land Rover spokesman Mark Foster said the company was "very disappointed" by the "no" vote - a reaction echoed by the Transport and General Workers Union.
"This is a fair and balanced package on pay and conditions which provide employees with the best possible security in the long term as well as securing the competitive position on the company," Mr Foster added.
A spokeswoman for the T&GWU said: "This is quite a difficult situation. It was a good offer in terms of the industry."
It was not known last night why the Lode Lane workforce rejected the offer, which would have been worth an average of £900 a year extra.
One possible reason is thought to be that workers at Jaguar's Halewood plant on Merseyside where the new Freelander will be built from next year earn about £30 a week more.
The fact that the offer was so narrowly rejected means there will almost certainly by no rush on the part of the unions to move the next stage of a pay dispute, a ballot on industrial action.
Instead, officials are expected to spend the next few days taking shop floor soundings to find out why a small majority came down against the offer.