Nestle Rowntree is to ask workers if they are interested in voluntary redundancy, as it seeks to shed 645 jobs at its York factory.

The decision follows the company's latest meeting with union leaders to discuss the proposed job losses, the restructuring of the factory and the transfer of brands away from York.

The city was shocked last month by the scale of the Nestle redundancies, which came within a week of 450 job losses at Norwich Union's York offices.

But Nestle managing director Paul Grimwood said then it was hoped that at least half of the job losses could be achieved through voluntary redundancy or early retirement.

He said the redevelopment of the older part of the site closest to York city centre could create about 300 new jobs for the city - approximately equivalent to the number of compulsory redundancies that might be needed.

At that stage, volunteers were not being invited to come forward. But a joint statement issued by the company and unions said that Nestle would now be asking all groups of employees if they wished to express an interest in taking voluntary redundancy.

One long-serving Nestle worker told The Press he believed large numbers of workers would express such an interest, and that the company might even be able to avoid having to impose compulsory redundancies.

"All the talk is of going for voluntary," he said. "People are worried about the terms and conditions they might have to work under if they stay on, and are also worried about the redundancy terms that might be offered in future if more jobs go."

Under Nestle's plans, the total workforce in York would be slimmed down to just over 1,800, with about 40 per cent of the 170-acre site in York being sold off for redevelopment with offices, retail outlets and new homes, subject to planning permission.

The money raised through the sale would be used towards a £20 million investment in the remainder of the site, where production would continue of five major brands, KitKats, Aeros, Milky Bars, Polos and Yorkies.

Mr Grimwood said last month that all the changes would safeguard the long-term employment of remaining employees.