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TORONTO (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co. (F.N) has told 350 new hires at its Oakville, Ontario, plant that their jobs have been put on hold indefinitely because the U.S. market for new cars and trucks had soured, a company official said on Wednesday.
Ford said market conditions were too uncertain for it know when it might start the third shift, leaving in limbo the 350 recruits, who had been due to report to work on Monday.
In April, Detroit-based Ford said it would start a third shift to the Oakville plant, where it makes the Ford Edge and the Lincoln MKX crossover SUVs, and recently began producing the Ford Flex crossover.
Since then, elevated fuel prices, at a time when many U.S. consumers are losing equity as their home values plummet, have caused a massive shift away from gas-guzzling trucks and sports utility vehicles to smaller, more fuel efficient autos.
"The Oakville assembly complex is delaying the introduction of a third shift in its final assembly operations and that is to better align production to some of these unprecedented shifts we've seen in the market," said Lauren More, spokeswoman for Ford Canada.
But the company said it would find openings for about 160 Ford workers who had been laid off from a Windsor, Ontario, plant and transferred to Oakville to work on the proposed third shift. About 3,500 hourly workers are employed at plant.
About nine out of every 10 vehicles built in Canada are sold in the U.S. market. The U.S. downturn, along with a Canadian dollar worth around 60 percent more than what it was just six years ago, have devastated the Canadian auto manufacturing industry.
"The market is dropping like a ton of lead in the U.S. and that's where most of our vehicles are sold," said Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.
He said the CAW and Ford would meet later this week to see what can be done for the affected workers.
"Ford are still saying that they're going to go ahead with (the third shift), but it's pretty hard to see where that's going to happen today," he said.
Some recent setbacks for Canadian autoworkers include 720 layoffs announced by Sterling Trucks in St Thomas, Ontario; 2,000 jobs lost at Ontario facilities operated by Progressive Moulded Products; 2,400 positions gone with the closure of General Motors Corp's (GM.N) truck plant in Oshawa, Ontario; and 400 jobs let go at Magna International Inc's MGa.TO St. Thomas parts plant.
Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Frank McGurty