Thousands of workers rallied Saturday outside the Renault factory in northern France to protest the automaker's decision to cut 15,000 jobs worldwide, including 4,600 in France.

Unions said 8,000 people took part in the protest at the Maubeuge subsidiary over the cuts designed to help Renault steer out of a cash crunch exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The plant, which employs around 2,100 people, has been stopped since Friday. Under the new plan, Maubeuge-based production of electric Kangoo utility vehicles is set to move to Douai, 70 kilometres (45 miles) away, much to the consternation of workers. “It's an earthquake that is taking place. We want to keep our company here," Jerome Delvaux, a union member, told AFP.

“This demonstration today is very important, even if it is a first step, to show the government and Renault that workers and residents of this area are committed to this company and that we have support," Delvaux added.

“We need these jobs, otherwise it's a whole territory that will die," he said. The company will target savings of more than two billion euros ($2.2 billion) over three years and turn its focus to electric vehicles as it seeks to restore competitiveness in a market reeling from slumping sales since the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of people into home confinement for weeks on end.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2020