IT IS the end of an era for a major Hampshire employer today as more than 500 workers at the giant Ford plant will walk through the gates for the last time.

The motor giant blames the economic downturn and lack of demand for the massive round of redundancies which will mean half the workforce going, taking with them 14,000 years of experience.

One worker, who at 48 years old can’t afford to leave, said: “I feel like I am being left on a sinking ship watching half my friends sail away in the last remaining lifeboat.

“I can’t see Ford being here in a few years time.”

Stephen Slominski, 52, who is leaving today after 23 years, said: “I have no faith in the promises we have been made about the future and I think lots of people share this feeling.

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“I have only taken retirement because I feel there will be more cuts to come with less of a redundancy package on offer.”

News the huge firm was to slash jobs was exclusively revealed by the Daily Echo earlier this year.

Today unions launched a fresh attack on Ford bosses claiming the firm was using the recession as an excuse to make huge job cuts.

Nick Chaffey, of the National Shop Stewards Network and Unison, said: “This is one chapter in a story that could spell the end for British manufacturing.

“I want to know why it is not the top level management who are losing out but the guys who have made the vans and the profit for all these years.”

He went on to say the ripples of these drastic cuts could cost the Hampshire economy as much as £20m a year and continue to hit the supply chain and related industries.

While Tuesday is officially the last day, most workers are handing in their uniforms and having one last look around the plant today.

Many have followed family members into the Swaythling plant and been clocking in for more than 30 years.

With their pensions, some of the high-grade, long-serving staff could be looking at leaving with up to £100,000.

Due to the recession the company has pushed back controversial plans to export the iconic Transit to Turkey.

There will be three weeks of nonproduction days starting next week.

The Daily Echo understands output has dropped from 380 a day last year to just 125.

Plant manager Martin Chapman told workers: “As we approach another significant milestone in the history of our plant I think it important to recognise our colleagues who will be leaving us shortly.

“A great many of those leaving will have spent most, if not all, of their working lives at Ford, and I would like to personally thank them on behalf of the management team and the company for their contribution and wish them every success in the future.”