Transport officials are considering furloughing some staff at Translink, Nichola Mallon has said.
The Stormont infrastructure minister said she has been asked by finance minister Conor Murphy to consider if furloughing would be applicable for the company which runs Northern Ireland’s public transport.
Translink has been beset with financial difficulties in the past which have now been compounded by the coronavirus lockdown.
Earlier this month Translink chief executive Chris Conway told the infrastructure committee it needed a £100 million injection of funds to continue providing a public transport network following a 90% drop in passenger numbers.
Appearing at the committee on Wednesday, Ms Mallon said her department’s budget allocations are not enough to address “significant inherited financial challenges” which she added have been “severely compounded” by Covid-19.
She said it had been a shock to be the only department outside the Executive Office not to receive an allocation from the department of finance’s Covid-19 budget.
She said Translink is looking at a 2021 shortfall of between £91 million and £114 million as a direct result of the pandemic following a “dramatic loss in revenue”.
“I have to say it was a bit of a shock to the system to not receive an allocation under the Covid-19 bill,” Ms Mallon told the committee, adding the finance minister has retained a £95 million fund for a transport package.
“The £95 million, before any of that (funding for ferries and airports) is taken from it is insufficient to meet Translink’s needs alone, so I’m in a very difficult position, but I continue to provide the analysis to the finance minister and to all executive colleagues and I will continue to press and make the case.”
Ms Mallon said Mr Murphy has suggested she considers the idea of furloughing Translink staff as transport staff in London have been.
“The finance minister has written to me and highlighted the fact that London has taken the step in furloughing and has suggested that would be applicable to our public transport network,” she said.
“On the back of that suggestion it is being explored in terms of feasibility by Translink, but my view on this is very clear – to take the step of furloughing public sector workers is a hugely significant step and is one I believe is cross cutting and should be approached and discussed with serious consideration by the Executive and in consultation with the trade unions.”