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Timing is key as Maersk restructuring puts spotlight on jobs

The best moment to shed staff may be during a profitable period, rather than when the bottom line turns red

The world’s largest container group has warned that positions will be axed as a result of the restructuring that will see the Safmarine brand go. But new jobs are being created as a result of the need for different skill sets as processes are automated and digitalised

MAERSK has never been squeamish about job cuts. Whereas most leading container shipping companies like to make a point of retaining staff even when times are bad, the Danish line has fairly frequent culls. That is why so many former Maersk employees can now be found working for, or running, other maritime companies around the world.

Now, AP Moller Maersk is preparing another round of lay-offs, part of the recently announced restructuring as the Safmarine and Damco brands are phased out, and more back office activities of German subsidiary Hamburg Süd are combined with those of Maersk Line.

Maersk Ocean and Logistics chief executive Vincent Clerc said there would inevitably be redundancies as Maersk continues to evolve into an integrated container transport and logistics company.

That means eliminating duplicate jobs in different divisions as they are amalgamated, as well as axing positions that are no longer needed as more processes are automated, or digitalised.

But this will not be a hiring ban, with Maersk still recruiting IT experts and others with different skills from the traditional shipping company employee.

Up to one third of the company's 80,000-strong workforce could find themselves caught up in this latest shake-up, according to an unidentified spokeswoman quoted by Reuters. She was cited as saying between 26,000 and 27,000 staff will be affected by the reorganisation. The final headcount reduction is likely to be considerably smaller.

Around 4,000 staff went during the last round of job losses at Maersk Line, between 2015 and 2017 before the group integration process started.

These days, Maersk is a very different company, so the numbers will not necessarily be similar to then, and the final tally is still under consideration. The number of axed jobs will be known by the time of the third quarter results.

But why now? Those who know the company well believe it has picked the right moment to trim headcount. Container lines are making money right now despite weak cargo volumes, and much to the surprise of many pundits who had feared the industry would be plunged into the red as the impact of the pandemic hit the global economy.

And that is the time to move, say industry insiders, when things are going well, in order to do all it can to ensure the company is ahead of the competition and well prepared for the next inevitable downturn.

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