200 jobs under threat at Port of Felixstowe

THROUGHPUT at Britain's biggest port has dropped dramatically because of the recession and around 200 jobs are now likely to be axed because of the reduced workload.

Richard Cornwell

THROUGHPUT at Britain's biggest port has dropped dramatically because of the recession and around 200 jobs are now likely to be axed because of the reduced workload.

Bosses at Felixstowe are keen not to lose critical skills - but say they cannot afford to pay men for sitting around doing nothing.

Portworkers have been shocked at the job cuts, but managers say the container terminal is not immune from the effects of the economic downturn, especially as many UK firms will be importing less products until the situation improves.

Voluntary redundancies are being sought, but workers are also being asked if they would be prepared to accept career breaks or reduced hours until business picks up. For �10,000 they could hand in their notice.

In a letter to employees, chief operating officer David Gledhill said: “Throughput for Felixstowe in January was 16 per cent down on January 2008 and given that our customers continue to reduce their capacity it is expected that our annual volume for 2009 will be significantly down on 2008.

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“A volume reduction of this size clearly means that the port will have substantial spare capacity and labour.”

Current projections are that the container division will have 130 more people than needed and there will be another 50 too many at Dooley Terminal and in the logistics sector because of Norfolk Line's proposed reduction in services.

In addition, the company is making 20 managers redundant to cut costs and “avoid duplication” of roles - a total of 200 people to leave the 2,800-strong workforce.

Mr Gledhill said talks were taking place with the transport and general workers union Unite.

The focus would be on voluntary redundancies and changes to contracts.

“We are also very keen to retain as many people and skills as possible so we are in a good position to capitalise on any recovery in volumes in 2010,” said Mr Gledhill.

One portworker who spoke to the EADT said: “People are very worried - no-one wants to give up their job because you don't know when you will get another one.

“We didn't think the port would be affected this badly as everyone still needs goods. The country hasn't closed down.”

Meanwhile, expansion work at the port is still pressing ahead.

While quaysides alongside the area may be quieter than normal, the company is convinced business will pick up and the �240 million project to turn Landguard into a deepwater terminal will be vital to its future.