SOUTHERN Water was left with no choice but to cut dozens of jobs because of financial pressures, a union has said.

Caroline Fife of the Unison trade union said the move announced on Wednesday was unfortunate for staff.

But she said water watchdog Ofwat’s insistence the firm cut customer bills meant it was left with no other choice.

The company, based in Worthing and Falmer, sent emails to some employees on announcing cuts due to “organisational changes”.

“It’s very unfortunate for staff that Southern Water is in a very tight financial position,” Ms Fife said.

“I think over the last 18 months the company has looked at a whole raft of changes.

“They’re looking at every element of expenditure.

“But Ofwat has told them to reduce their bills to customers over the next five years, which is another financial pressure.”

One employee at risk said the timing of the job cuts, coinciding with an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, was disrespectful to staff.

“We’ve all been told that the financial settlement is challenging but doable,” the employee said.

“No one let us know this was coming.

“At least the airlines had the decency to cut executive pay.

“Is this the sign of a company that proudly claims it takes its staff welfare and mental wellbeing seriously?

“They’re doing this at a time where Covid-19 will decimate the job market.”

Southern Water did not disclose how many jobs will be affected by the changes.

But The Argus understands the number of positions at risk is fewer than 100.

It is also understood the cuts will mainly affect corporate posts and not those working on front-line services.

The firm was left reeling after it was slapped with a record £126 million fine by Ofwat last year.

An investigation found the business had not operated its sewage plants properly leading to devastating spillages.

A Southern Water spokesman said the job cuts ensure the firm will be fit for the future.

“Southern Water has undergone an enormous amount of change over the past three years and continues to change at pace as its new executive team seeks to continually improve performance and meet the tough financial challenge set by our regulator Ofwat,” he said.

“This means we need to look hard at the shape of our teams and ensure they are fit for the future to ensure we can deliver good services for our customers.

“Staff who are impacted by these changes are being fully supported by the company.

“Over the next five years Southern Water is investing £3.2 billion across the region which will create jobs and benefit the local environment as well as ensuring a resilient water and wastewater network for the future.”

Last Wednesday Southern Water pleaded guilty to 51 illegal sewage discharges after an Environment Agency investigation.

The company is set to be sentenced at Maidstone Crown Court in October.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Southern Water Services Ltd appeared before Maidstone Crown Court and entered guilty pleas to the indictment.

“Sentence has been adjourned to a date to be fixed.

“This is provisionally due to take place at some time in October. We cannot comment further.”