There probably won’t be so many cars or passengers rolling off Color Line ferries in the months ahead. The Norwegian shipping line that runs ferries between Norway and Denmark, Sweden and Germany confirmed on Friday that it will cut as many as 300 jobs because of Corona virus-related reductions in traffic.
It’s taking a long time, Color Line explained in a press release, to rebuild passenger volume and keep routes open after the Covid-19 virus forced Norway and most other countries to all but shut down last March. Both of Color Line’s cruise-ferries that run to Kiel in Germany were laid up in Oslo for months, as were the company’s other ferries that run from Larvik and Kristiansand to Hirtshals in Denmark and from Sandefjord to Strömstad in Sweden.
Around 300 workers were laid off and now it’s unclear whether their jobs will be preserved. Among those laid off on March 19 was Lise Christie, who works on board Color Line’s Superspeed 2 ferry that runs between Larvik and Hirtshals. News service Frifagbevegelse reported recently how she was called back to work on August 4, after Denmark had reopened to visitors from Norway and traffic demand rose, only to get a new lay-off notice last week.
Now Christie’s seven years of seniority aren’t likely to keep her employed in the wake of actual job cuts, since many colleagues have worked for Color Line much longer than she has. “It’s been very strange and sad after I finally could come back to work after that long (four-month) lay-off period,” Christie told Frifagbevegelse. “I want to work, and missed my colleagues.”
Instead of just fearing a new lay-off period, she and many others are now facing termination. “It’s incredibly sad,” Erina Bryn Kjær, who represents Color Line employees, told state broadcaster NRK on Friday. “This was tough news for the workers to get. It’s a difficult situation both for them and for Color Line.” It’s also likely to crop up at other companies in the travel industry, which has been hit especially hard by the Corona crisis.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported last week that Color Line logged pre-tax losses of NOK 756 million during the first-half of 2020 after operating revenes fell from NOK 2.3 billion during the same period last year to just NOK 1.1 billion this year. The company is owned by Norwegian investor and businessman Nils Olav Sunde and his family, and they’ve been trying to cut costs both on board their ships and on land, at times with only the cargo ship Color Cargo sailing between Oslo and Kiel.
Like many other companies hit hard by the Corona shutdown, Color Line has received crisis funding from the state. DN reported that it amounted to NOK 129 million, but that only covered some unavoidable fixed costs. The company also managed to postpone some loan payments, which has improved liquidity.
Quarantine restrictions restrict business
With infection levels rising again in both Germany and parts of Denmark, however, quarantine restrictions are back in place and travel demand is diving once again. Norwegians traveling to Germany, for example, would have to go through 10 days of quarantine upon return, as will Germans arriving in Norway.
In an apparent attempt to salvage some traffic, Color Line has been advertising half-price fares just for pleasure cruises from Oslo to Kiel, with no one being allowed to go ashore in Kiel. From last week until December 17, the Color Fantasy and Color Magic will sail “with only guests boarding in Oslo,” but it’s a way for the company to generate some income, also on board in the bars, restaurants and tax-free shops.
There’s also an important proviso on the ads that “if Germany becomes ‘green’ again,” changes can occur and restrictions may be eased.
Unemployment highest in the travel industry
Lower passenger volumes are nonetheless expected, meaning reduced need for crews on board. “This is of course very sad for those (employees) affected, but we have to adjust costs in relation to revenues in order to secure the most jobs possible for the future,” Einar Monstad, personnel director for Color Line, told Frifagvevelse.
Kjær, the employees’ representative, added that the “dialogue with management was good, but it’s of course tough to sit at the table and discuss terminations.”
They may be the first of more to come throughout the travel industry, with many hotels also expecting a rough autumn and airlines teetering on the brink of bankruptcty. Overall unemployment in Norway declined in August, to 4.3 percent, but most of the jobless already are those working in the travel sector (which has a 9.1 percent unemployment rate) and retailing, according to state welfare agency NAV. The lowest unemployment was found in the health sector, at just 1.4 percent.