Workers of Oshawa's General Motors car assembly plant, listen to Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the union representing the workers. Picture: Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press via AP.
Workers of Oshawa's General Motors car assembly plant, listen to Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the union representing the workers. Picture: Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press via AP.
Members of the Unifor union stand near the entrance to the plant in Ontario, which GM plans to close. Picture: Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press via AP.
Members of the Unifor union stand near the entrance to the plant in Ontario, which GM plans to close. Picture: Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press via AP.

Toronto - Hundreds of workers walked off the job and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed "deep disappointment" after General Motors on Monday announced the closure of its Oshawa plant, catching governments and employees by surprise.

Canadian officials, briefed on the plan on Sunday, promised to aid those affected by the December 2019 closure, part of a wider restructuring that will halt production of slow-selling models, including the Chevrolet Cruze, and slash GM's North American workforce.

GM said the closure affects 2973 assembly line jobs in the Ontario city, out of the carmaker's Canadian workforce of 8150.

"I spoke with GM (Chief Executive) Mary Barra to express my deep disappointment in the closure," Trudeau tweeted on Monday. "We'll do everything we can to help the families affected by this news get back on their feet."

GM told the provincial government that nothing could be done to keep the plant - located about 60 km east of Toronto - open, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.

"The first thing I said is, 'What can we do? What do we have to do?'" said Ford, referring to a Sunday call with GM Canada's president, Travis Hester. "He said the ship has already left the dock."

"We are not going away without a fight," Jerry Dias, National President of auto workers union Unifor, told a news conference in Oshawa.

Canada's motor industry has struggled to attract new investment in recent years, and the latest closure will ripple through the company's supply chain.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya.

However, Ford has no plans to close a plant in Canada, President Mark Buzzell told reporters after meeting with Trudeau on Monday.

The new trade agreement struck by the United States, Mexico and Canada in September leaves significant room for Canadian plants to increase duty-free exports. 

But a former Canadian auto executive said it would be difficult for Canadian government officials to persuade GM to keep the plant open.

"The government has done everything they could to keep them afloat. Obviously incentives by themselves don't keep a car plant open," said the executive, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Members of Unifor walked out of the Oshawa plant "in protest," ahead of a meeting with GM about the announcement, a union spokeswoman said.

"I've moved my family twice for this company and they do this to me. It's terrible," a tearful worker told CBC TV as he left the plant.

GM also plans to halt production at three US assembly plants next year, while ending production of the Chevrolet Cruze, Volt hybrid, Cadillac CT6 and Buick LaCrosse. The Cruze cwill be discontinued in the US market in 2019, although GM may continue building it in Mexico for other markets, Barra said.

Reuters