Solar cell sector workforce down by 6,000 in 2 years

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A CNA review of annual reports of companies in the sector found Taiwan's solar cell makers posted losses of more than NT$20 billion (US$641 million) in 2018, and those losses could continue because there are no signs of the sector rebounding any time soon. (Nownews)
A CNA review of annual reports of companies in the sector found Taiwan's solar cell makers posted losses of more than NT$20 billion (US$641 million) in 2018, and those losses could continue because there are no signs of the sector rebounding any time soon. (Nownews)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwanese manufacturers of solar cells have seen their workforces shrink by nearly 6,000 people this year and last, mostly through layoffs and downsizing, to cut costs to survive in a weak global market.

A CNA review of annual reports of companies in the sector found Taiwan’s solar cell makers posted losses of more than NT$20 billion (US$641 million) in 2018, and those losses could continue because there are no signs of the sector rebounding any time soon.

United Renewable Energy Co. (UREC), the largest solar energy company in Taiwan, joined the growing list of companies downsizing their operations on Tuesday, saying it will cut its workforce by 10-20 percent by the end of this year.

UREC was created through a merger encouraged by the government of Neo Solar Power Corp., Gintech Energy Corp. and Solartech Energy Corp. in October 2018 as part of its efforts to develop renewable energy.

Based on UREC’s plan, it will let go between 284 and 568 employees this year. As of the end of February, it had a workforce of 2,840 employees.

The company said that with the cut in solar cell production in response to the global supply glut, it will expand production in back-end solar panels and solar energy generation systems.

In the first quarter of the year, UREC posted a loss per share of NT$0.26 after reporting a loss per share of NT$0.34 for all of 2018.

Before UREC’s latest announcement, several other solar cell makers cut their workforces by a total of more than 1,500 workers earlier this year, including E-Ton Solar Tech Co., which has laid off 205 people in 2019 after letting go of 425 employees last year.

E-Ton Solar posted a loss per share of NT$1.57 in the first quarter, compared with a loss per share of NT$0.84 in the same quarter a year earlier.

It had a loss per share of NT$3.43 for all of 2018, down from a loss of NT$8.76 per share in 2017.

Last year, the number of workers in Taiwan’s solar cell industry fell by about 4,400, with Motech Industries Inc. cutting its staff by 2,161 people, or 46.6 percent, through several stages of layoffs.

Motech incurred a loss per share of NT$12.61 in 2018, more than double its loss per share of NT$5.92 a year earlier.

The company’s losses continued in the first quarter of 2019, with a loss per share of NT$0.70.

Tainergy Tech Co. also cut its workforce in Taiwan by 951 people last year, retaining only 97 as it moved its solar cell production lines to Vietnam. It had a loss per share of NT$0.15 in the first quarter, an improvement from a loss per share of NT$0.64 last year.

The silver lining was that TSEC Corp., which has transformed its business from solar cell production to back-end module and panel manufacturing, turned a profit in the first quarter with earnings per share of NT$0.06, after reporting a loss per share of NT$2.54 in 2018.

TSEC’s improving bottom line came after the company cut the number of its employees by 215 last year. Now, TSEC said it is seeing its workforce grow since the beginning of this year due to its efforts to expand back-end solar panel operations.

Taiwanese manufacturers have been able to survive making panels because they have an advantage in selling the end product to the domestic market, which is sizable enough to take a reasonable share of their capacity.

But the manufacturing capacity of small solar cells far exceeds domestic demand and with a global glut in supply, Taiwanese vendors are having trouble finding outlets for their products.

By Chang Chien-chung and Frances Huang