There are major fears for the jobs of hundreds of Stena Line workers in Northern Ireland, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Maritime staff employed on Belfast to Scotland ferries have expressed concern that they are to be replaced by foreign crews as the company attempts to slash £10m from its operating costs.
The threat – which could affect more than 200 local workers – initially emerged in a letter the company sent to employees last month, which listed the recruitment of foreign workers as a possible cost-cutting option.
This was denied at the time, but sources have told the Belfast Telegraph that at least five foreign crew have been taken on in the last month.
Ukip MLA David McNarry has spoken to concerned local employees and has now urged the ferry giant to come clean or issue an assurance that the jobs are secure.
"I am aware of potential job cuts by Stena Line impacting on personnel at both Belfast and Cairnryan," said Mr McNarry.
"Cuts seldom result in improving services; they hit families and bread-winners hard. I would ask the Executive to investigate whether there is a problem. The public must be kept fully informed."
Stena's Irish Sea route manager Paul Grant has been tasked with making £10m savings from the seafaring staff on Stena's Irish Sea operations. He said the company hadn't made money in 10 years, prompting a cost-cutting exercise that has to be completed by the start of next year.
A Stena Line spokeswoman said the company is in discussions with trade unions and staff representatives "to help secure the continuing employment of its current Irish Sea seafarers and not to replace local seafarers with foreign crew".
She added: "This past week we have experienced a high level of sickness, which has been covered where possible using local company employees. Only when the normal internal processes have been insufficient, then crew has been seconded from another Stena company to cover."
A source told the Belfast Telegraph that existing staff had been warned they could be replaced with foreign crew.
"We've been told the company isn't profitable so our jobs could go to foreign workers if we don't accept new working conditions," the insider said.
By Claire McNeilly
A Stena Line worker has told of his concern over potential job losses after the company said it may replace existing staff with foreign crew.
The 58-year-old naval seaman, who asked not to be named, said there were fears that over 200 workers in Northern Ireland could be at risk.
He also said the ferry giant is in discussions with union representatives to try to find a compromise as the threat continues to hang over employees' heads.
"Stena has asked us to accept longer working hours and unpaid leave to avoid replacement with foreign crews," said the source.
"Some £10m has to be saved and we've been told we could lose our jobs if we don't accept new working conditions.
"Five Polish seafarers have already been employed on vessels since mid-March.
"People are beginning to feel very threatened about their futures."