Workers at five Sussex factories face a fresh round of redundancies for the second time this year.

Hundreds of people are waiting to find out how many jobs will be axed during a cost-cutting exercise at troubled BOC Edwards.

The number of workers facing the axe is due to be confirmed by the middle of next week following consultations with managers and staff.

The award-winning manufacturing firm, which employs about 1,500 in Sussex, has traditionally made vacuum pumps for the industrial, chemical and scientific markets but, since the Eighties, it has focused the majority of its business on semiconductors for the electronics industry.

One of the worst downturns in the history of the electronics market has forced the company to announce job cuts at its six UK sites including Burgess Hill, Shoreham, Crawley, Eastbourne and Newhaven.

Workers discovered the news from a statement pinned to noticeboards. They have been invited to apply for voluntary redundancy.

In July and August, 95 people volunteered for redundancy which helped the firm cut its costs by £4 million.

More than half BOC Edwards' profits are directly related to the global semiconductor equipment industry, where sales of capital equipment have fallen by 35 per cent compared with last year.

The industry downturn has been caused by a slowdown in the US economy and a worldwide fall in demand for mobile telephones and personal computers.

Consultative committees involving management and employees have been arranged for Monday to look at ways of reducing costs further and limiting redundancies.

No figure has been agreed but the company admitted compulsory redundancies could not be ruled out.

Group communications manager Patrick Pearson said: "We have seen what has happened to all the electronics companies.

"The situation has deteriorated, not just for our customers but companies like Marconi which are our customers' customers and this has had a knock-on effect.

"The industry has been used to peaks and troughs, but these have been much sharper than ever before."

"In the meantime, we continue to explore other ways of cutting costs, even right down to turning the lights off. We are a big company, so anything like that can save energy and power."