Ferry company Stena Line is temporarily laying off 650 staff and making 150 redundant, as well as cutting journeys, to cope with a fall-off in business after the outbreak of coronavirus.
The company said it employs a total of 950 staff on its sailings from Northern Ireland to Liverpool, Heysham and Cairnryan.
Now it’s making cuts to its 1,650-strong workforce on the island of Ireland.
But the company said it did not yet know how many roles in its Northern Ireland operation would be affected.
Paul Grant, trade director for Irish Sea and North Sea routes, said the company had to reduce its headcount and cut positions in order to maintain its role as a freight carrier, and continue to carry passengers on essential journeys.
Mr Grant said Stena had “no intention of stopping passenger sailings” but has reduced the number of trips from last week.
He added Stena would be “constantly reviewing our schedule based on demand and our ability to keep the operation rolling”.
“We must keep going and continue to carrying freight and people on essential journeys.”
He said the company is now in consultation with trade unions, but added: “We don’t expect things to recover quickly so we need to take some action to remain viable. The fall in traffic is having a significant impact on us.”
The company has cut capacity on its Belfast to Liverpool route from six crossings daily to four, while Belfast to Cairnryan is down from 12 daily crossings to 10.
“This will be kept constantly under review. Our freight traffic is down 30% and passenger figures down over 80%, and we’ve also made a massive investment in new ships.
“Around 65% of all Northern Ireland freight travels across with us. We’re doing our best to keep services and routes open.”
Ian Hampton, director of Stena Line, said: “The Covid-19 crisis has meant that Stena Line is experiencing a significant decline in passenger and freight volumes across all its 20 European routes. We are having to make some very difficult decisions, that we hoped we would never have to make.”
The announcement of furlough and redundancies relates to both UK and Ireland shored-based and sea-based employees, including those working on vessels on the Irish Sea and North Sea. It follows a reduction of the number of sailings on several routes. Several vessels have also been taken out of service.
Everyone on furlough will receive 80% of their salaries. Where UK and Irish Government schemes don’t cover the full amount, the remainder will be paid by the firm.
The company said furlough will also be used to help vulnerable employees, such as those that need to self-isolate due to underlying health conditions.
The company added that it “does not rule out that there could be further furlough, redundancy or changes to its current sailing schedules or routes”.