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Researcher sees hope despite troubles at Finland's biggest shipyard

Meyer Turku is in talks to cut up to 450 jobs this week, but an expert says the firm still has a good future.

Costa Smeralda Meyer Turun telakalla
The Costa Smeralda at Meyer Turku shipyard, where she was built. The vessel is currently operated by Costa Cruises, a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation. The vessel is the fifth-largest cruise ship in the world, as of last year. Image: Meyer Turku

Just a few months ago the Meyer Turku shipyard had plans to ramp up production in order to build two massive cruise ships instead of just one.

But the coronavirus crisis brought those plans to a screeching halt and the firm recently announced plans for widespread job cuts at the facility located in south-west Finland’s Turku.

Meyer Turku began negotiations with employee representatives on Tuesday, and talks also involve making arrangements for delivery scheduling of ships already on order from cruise firms.

Up to 450 workers at the yard risk losing their jobs outright, while others face furloughs.

Chief shop steward Juha Jormanainen, who represents the workers said the mood at the sprawling facility is calm. There are currently 2,200 people employed at the yard.

"Everyone knows what it means to lose their job - incomes go down. But it’s impossible to do anything about this worldwide coronavirus crisis," he told Yle.

Researcher sees glass half-full

University of Turku special researcher Tapio Karvonen said there is a ray of light in the dismal outlook, however.

"I think it is important to raise the positive aspects of the situation - not a single new order for a cruise ship has been cancelled. At present, it is a question of speeding up the construction timetables," Karvonen said.

He said even though the cruise industry has slowed down, along with opportunities for growth, work at the shipyard is still going forward. But the looming changes in the firm’s outlook have a direct impact on employees.

"It’s a remarkable business venture to build a cruise ship in a year. The shipyard isn't shutting down," he said.

Late last month, as Meyer Turku announced the job cuts, the firm said that it was negotiating delayed delivery dates for the seven cruise ships in its order book with its clients.

How will coronavirus affect subcontractors?

Karvonen said that there may not even be a need to reduce staff among subcontractors, but conceded that new recruits won’t be needed for a while.

Now that the company has decided not to go forward with plans to double their output of cruise ships from one to two per year, the workload will be more uneven for subcontractors, according to the researcher.

Karvonen said the big cruise line companies still have money in the bank and have been successful in finding financial backing, however he said that they can’t wait too long.

A decade ago -- before the German family Meyer acquired it in 2014 -- the shipyard's finances were not in good shape. But shop steward Jormanainen said that today's situation can't be compared to that.

"Back then the world markets were the problem and the owner was in a financial crisis. Financiers didn't trust the company. Now, the entire tourism industry has been brought to its knees because of coronavirus.

Karvonen concurred with that sentiment.

"The yard's order book is noticeably better than it was at the beginning of the 2010s. Now, the long-term effects of the crisis pose questions, but there will be jobs there for years to come," he explained.

Jormainen also said he is looking forward to the future with a sense of confidence, but noted that he has to make every effort to make the list of names on the job cut list as short as possible.

"The yard isn't going anywhere. I believe that a shop steward will be commenting on another crisis someday in the 2030s, as well," he said.

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