A LEADING Hampshire ferry operator has devised a rescue package as it battles the latest impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wightlink, which normally carries 4.5 million passengers a year, has unveiled a three-point action plan that aims to ensure it survives the Covid crisis.

Proposals include changes to staff pensions, flexibility in working patterns and alterations to terms and conditions for future employees.

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Wightlink has launched a 60-day consultation with its 464-strong workforce and says there will be no compulsory job losses if the plans are accepted.

The company operates three cross-Solent routes, providing a vital service between the Isle of Wight and the mainland.

Like many businesses it was still recovering from the first national lockdown when the second shutdown was ordered earlier this month.

Wightlink has already decided to suspend its FastCat service between Portsmouth and Ryde from Friday as well as cutting the number of sailings between Lymington and Yarmouth because of falling passenger numbers.

The company maintains it must become a more sustainable business to cope with future financial risks and ensure services and jobs are protected.

In a statement it said: "Wightlink lost £20m in revenue at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country is now back in lockdown, with non-essential travel banned, and passenger volumes are not expected to return to normal in the foreseeable future.

"The company has put forward a proposal with three elements to ensure it emerges from the pandemic as a sustainable business.

"They involve changes to pensions, flexibility in working patterns and changes to terms and conditions for future employees. If the proposal is accepted there will be no compulsory job losses as a result of the current crisis."

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Wightlink's chief executive Keith Greenfield added: "It is my duty to ensure that Wightlink survives this crisis, however long it lasts.

"We must manage our current costs and future financial risks to protect jobs and our lifeline connections for Islanders.

“The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the travel sector and wider industry. There have been widespread job losses, changes to terms and conditions and long term pay reductions.

"We do not want to see this happen at Wightlink.

“If we can reach agreement with our colleagues and trade unions to combat these financial challenges, we can avoid compulsory redundancies and protect Wightlink’s services for the future.”

Wightlink staff have 60 days to comment on the proposals.