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Li Ka-shing's UK carrier cuts 7% of workforce in revamp

[LONDON] CK Hutchison Holdings, the Hong Kong-based conglomerate founded by tycoon Li Ka-shing, is cutting about 280 jobs at British phone company Three under new chief executive officer Robert Finnegan.

The decision mainly affects head-office staff in the UK and represents a roughly 7 per cent reduction to the company's 4,300 workers, a spokesperson for Three said in response to questions.

CK Hutchison, which gets about half its revenue from Europe, has seen its share price plunge by a third this year as the pandemic and political unrest in Hong Kong undermined its energy, retail, ports and real estate businesses. In August, chairman Victor Li said controls on costs would be "stringent but flexible" after profit fell 29 per cent in the first half and forecast declines for ports and retail in the second half.

While the conglomerate's telecommunications businesses have been less vulnerable to the pandemic, CKH Group Telecom profit slumped 15 per cent in the first half, while active customers at European carriers under 3 Group Europe fell 7 per cent to 38.7 million.

CK Hutchison also said in August it had seen "meaningful improvements" in its UK telecom business from senior management changes.

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Mr Finnegan took the reins of Three UK in March and continues to head up its sister wireless company in Ireland, which he has run since 2005.

In August, Mr Finnegan told Bloomberg the British mobile market would benefit from consolidation. The Hong Kong-based conglomerate successfully merged Ireland's Three with Telefonica's Irish carrier O2.

In the UK, Three might have to look elsewhere for partners, since Telefonica struck a deal in May to combine UK carrier O2 with Liberty Global's UK cable company Virgin Media.

The company is also discussing ways to align its UK and Ireland businesses, the spokesperson said.

"As part of our ongoing transformation, we are consulting on changes to make our business the right size to serve our customers' needs and drive greater alignment between the UK and Ireland," she said.

"We are seeking to minimise redundancies wherever possible through not back-filling vacancies and the removal of contractors' roles," she added. "We recognise this is an unsettling time and are fully supporting our staff through it."

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