Employment in the solar cell manufacturing industry has fallen by nearly 6,000 people this year and last, mostly due to downsizing as firms cut costs to survive in a weak global market.
A Central News Agency review of annual reports found that Taiwanese solar cell makers last year posted losses totaling more than NT$20 billion (US$643.4 million), with no signs of a rebound in sight.
United Renewable Energy Co (UREC, 聯合再生), the nation’s largest solar energy firm, on July 9 said that it would cut its workforce by 10 to 20 percent by the end of this year, joining a growing list of downsizing companies.
Based on its workforce of 2,840 as of the end of February, UREC is to let go 284 to 568 employees this year.
Along with a cut in solar cell production in response to a global supply glut, the company said it would expand production of back-end solar panels and solar energy generation systems.
In the first quarter of the year, UREC posted losses per share of NT$0.26 after reporting losses per share of NT$0.34 for all of last year.
Several other solar cell makers have already cut their workforces by a total of more than 1,500 workers this year, including E-Ton Solar Tech Co (益通光能), which has laid off 205 people this year after letting go of 425 employees last year.
E-Ton Solar posted losses per share of NT$1.57 in the first quarter, compared with NT$0.84 in the same quarter last year. It had losses per share of NT$3.43 for all of last year, down from losses 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 (茂迪) cutting its staff by 2,161 people, or 46.6 percent, through several stages of layoffs.
Motech last year incurred losses per share of NT$12.61, more than double its losses per share of NT$5.92 a year earlier. The decline continued in the first quarter of this year, with losses per share of NT$0.7.
Tainergy Tech Co (太極能源) 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 losses per share of NT$0.15 in the first quarter, an improvement from NT$0.64 in the same period last year.
The silver lining was that TSEC Corp (元晶太陽能) — 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 losses per share of NT$2.54 for last year.
TSEC’s improving bottom line came after the company cut the number of its employees by 215 last year.
However, TSEC said that its workforce has grown since the beginning of this year due to its efforts to expand back-end solar panel operations.
Taiwanese manufacturers have been able to survive by making panels, because they have an advantage in selling the end product to the domestic market, which is large enough to take a reasonable share of their capacity.
However, 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.
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