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UK unions team up to fight job loss to India
Shyam Bhatia in London | June 05, 2003 14:27 IST
Opposition to call centre jobs being 'exported' from the United Kingdom has intensified with three of the country's biggest trades unions joining forces to fight the loss of work to India.
The Communication Workers' Union, which debated the issue at its annual conference in Bouremouth earlier this week, has called for a nationwide campaign to oppose the 'dangers' of offshore outsourcing.
The CWU is already campaigning against a move by telecommunications giant British Telecom to transfer work to Bangalore with the potential loss of more than 2,000 jobs in the UK. The union believes the British government should intervene to prevent the potential loss of more than 200,000 jobs.
The CWU has met with officials from financial workers' unions Unifi and Amicus (which also represents call centre workers) to agree a plan of action.
The union says workers are now voicing increasing concern at the recent developments and plan to resist all compulsory redundancies.
CWU deputy general secretary Jeannie Drake said, "We will not stand by idly and watch firms such as BT play fast and loose with the long-term job security of our members. The government needs to wake up to the political and electoral consequences of this issue, as well as the economic ones."
BT insists it has no intention to start moving existing jobs overseas, but is committed to employing 500 people in two new call centres in Bangalore and New Delhi by the end of the month, with the total rising to 2,200 by March 2004.
But CWU general secretary Billy Hayes has backed calls for protests outside all BT call centres in the UK to alert staff to the threat outsourcing poses to their jobs.
He dubbed outsourcing 'the thin end of the wedge' and predicted that if BT gets away with outsourcing service-sector jobs to India to cut costs, other operators such as Vodafone would be forced to follow to remain competitive.
"It is disingenuous of BT to say they are forced to locate in India to remain competitive, as they are the first major UK employer in their sector to do this," said a union spokesman.
"If they go ahead, then it is the other fixed and mobile operators who will be forced to outsource customer services to India to remain competitive."
BT's Indian workers will be paid 0.75p to £1.25p per hour, as opposed to the £5-£10 per hour it pays support centre staff in the UK. The CWU fears that the business model is so attractive that the UK could soon see a rush to relocate service sector jobs to India.
Another CWU spokeswoman said that although the initial BT outsourcing work was relatively unskilled, the union feared the company was using it to gauge the reaction to a more widespread programme across a wider group of skills.
"This is not just about telecoms. If BT can get away with this without a strong backlash, it will open the floodgates for the entire services sector to outsource jobs," she said.
"The services sector is all that some regions in the UK have left after the demise of the manufacturing industry."
The union also dismissed the 'golden guarantee' given earlier by Pierre Danon, head of BT Retail, that the company will not outsource any existing jobs to India.According to the CWU, the technology changes almost weekly in the telecom industry and any posts related to new technologies such as broadband Internet could be classified as new jobs.