With air-passenger numbers having fallen by 71% so far this year, an 86% fall in harbour passengers, and little prospect of improvement during the winter, Ports of Jersey confirmed to staff yesterday that it could no longer operate sustainably without cutting costs.
The government-owned operator has begun a consultation process aimed at cutting around 15% of its 420 directly employed staff through a combination of voluntary redundancy and early retirement. This would equate to a £3 million reduction in costs – the equivalent of up to 65 roles.
The move to cut costs does not mean the end for ambitious plans to redevelop Jersey Airport – the £42m scheme may still go ahead, depending on the outcome of a review ordered by the States Assembly in June.
Ports of Jersey chief executive Matt Thomas said the question of job losses had been put off for as long as possible, and that rising infection rates that have affected the whole of Europe in recent weeks meant the process could no longer be avoided.
‘When the borders opened in July we started to move back towards sustainability, but couldn’t continue that progress once we reached September,’ he said. ‘We could ride one wave, but the second wave has meant we’ve had to take these steps – sadly we are not immune to the effects of the virus.
‘We believe the difficult decision we are taking today will ensure that we are in the best shape to bounce back in the future.’
Mr Thomas said he was acutely aware of the impact of job losses on the Ports of Jersey workforce, praising the commitment staff had displayed, especially during the early months of the pandemic when up to 100 employees were redeployed to assist with Jersey’s response to coronavirus.
‘Our focus in the coming weeks will be to help our employees and undertake the voluntary redundancy process in a supportive and compassionate way,’ he said.
As Covid-19 restrictions affect an increasingly large number of passengers, massive falls in the demand for air travel have led to a reduction in the number of air links between Jersey and the UK.
From the start of November to the week before Christmas, the Island will have regular air links to just four UK cities: London (both Heathrow and Gatwick), Southampton, Liverpool and Bristol. Condor Ferries has cancelled its fast-ferry services to England for a month from early November.
Although he warned that travel would be a very competitive sector once the recovery from the pandemic started, and that the Island had no ‘entitlement’ to a high level of connectivity, Mr Thomas said he was optimistic about the future.
‘Travelling is part of the human spirit... and I’m confident it will return,’ he said. ‘Levels of demand are not looking bad for next summer and Jersey should be one of the first markets able to respond.
‘Connectivity is one of the biggest levers to economic growth and we understand the role we have to play.’
The Island’s commitment to maintain connectivity has been reflected in the way Ports of Jersey worked with the government, Condor and airlines in setting up arrivals testing when the borders opened in July, he added.
Mr Thomas said Ports of Jersey would look at planned capital projects, such as the proposed Airport redevelopment, but added that Ports’ commitment to maintain Jersey’s connectivity meant investment in the Airport terminal was needed to ensure compliance with aviation regulations.
Up to the end of September, passenger numbers to/from Jersey fell by 71% (air) and 86% (sea) compared with 2019.
In recent weeks air passenger numbers have fallen further to 90%, with some flights carrying fewer than ten passengers.
Ports of Jersey has already cut costs by £1.5m through a recruitment freeze and changes to the senior executive team.
Thousands of job losses in the UK travel sector have included 30% of staff at British Airways and easyJet, as well as 660 airport jobs at Gatwick, 376 at Stansted and 465 at Manchester.
Five new routes between Jersey and England will be started by Jet2.com next summer: Stansted, Birmingham, East Midlands, Manchester and Newcastle.