Hong Kong's biggest port operator has sacked 28 staff, and a trade union claims the company will sack a total of 80 under a plan to reduce costs by 20 per cent. Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) blamed 'the economic downturn and worsening business environment' for the sackings, and said '2009 is expected to be a very challenging year'. But it denied it would sack 80 staff. Chiu Chi-keung, chairman of the Container Transportation Employees General Union, said its sources had told it HIT was planning further sackings. 'Sources told us that more sackings are on the way and that the company aims to sack about 80 workers in order to reduce operating costs by 20 per cent,' he said. The union accused the company of ignoring its social responsibility and sacking workers without consulting them on other possible cost-cutting measures. HIT said restructuring was one of the many measures it had adopted 'to maximise operating cost efficiency' and that it would 'closely monitor market developments and review all options'. Before Tuesday's sackings, the company - the flagship of Hutchison Port Holdings, part of Li Ka-shing's business empire - employed 1,600 people. Mr Chiu said the workers laid off ranged from frontline staff to managers. 'Workers from the engineering department, and those who operated machines to handle containers, managers and some from the higher managerial level were sacked on Tuesday,' he said. The union has asked HIT management for a meeting. 'We want to engage in a dialogue with the company and appeal to its management to stop sacking its employees and work out other measures to cut operating costs to survive this difficult time,' Mr Chiu said. 'The company should inform its employees about its intention to cut costs and difficulties in doing business before taking any action. All the affected workers were so shocked when they were sacked and told to leave their posts at once.' One of the workers sacked is a Mr Chan. 'I worked for this company for over 15 years. The company is really cruel. Why can't it first talk to us about business falling before sacking us? Why can't it first introduce pay cuts or unpaid holidays to cut costs?' he said yesterday. The 54-year-old worked in the engineering department. 'My monthly salary was about HK$13,000. I am the only breadwinner in the family and I still have to pay a mortgage for my flat and feed my family. My son is only 14 years old. I am really lost now and worried that I cannot find another job any time soon,' he said. Hong Kong port throughput in February fell 20.6 per cent year on year to 1.3 million 20-foot equivalent units, slightly improved from January's 23.2 per cent drop, according to the Hong Kong Port Development Council. Shipments have been falling for several months.