British Airways exports data processing work to India

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British Airways, which last week announced record profits of pounds 585m, is creating data processing jobs in India to take advantage of pay rates up to 13 times lower than Britain.

Union leaders yesterday warned that as many as 5,000 white-collar jobs at the airline could be "exported" to the sub-continent where on-screen administrative staff earn pounds 2,000 a year rather than the pounds 14,000 to pounds 26,000 paid in Britain.

The company insisted yesterday that its operation in India was a "totally new business", but conceded in a letter to unions that management was taking advantage of an "attractive cost base".

British unions fear that a wide range of computer-based services could be transferred to the Third World with the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of British jobs.

In the letter to BA union officials dated 21 May, the company disclosed it was employing 150 in Bombay, rising eventually to 450.

Sean Keating, chief negotiator for the GMB general union at BA, accused the airline of having a "hidden agenda" to export British jobs.

On the same day that the airline announced record profits it also revealed that it intended to cut costs by a billion pounds by the year 2000, said Mr Keating.

"At a time of record profits, there is no justification for this. It is immoral," he said.

Mr Keating claimed that BA had already transferred jobs abroad and that telephone calls from the public to BA after 10pm were often handled in New York. A similar attempt to switch calls from the United States to Britain was blocked by legal action taken by American unions.

A system for correcting tickets had been switched to Delhi four years ago, Mr Keating said. The number of jobs in Britain associated with the process declined from 100 to 17.

Mr Keating also said the union would demand assurances from the company and would seek legislation, similar to US law, stopping companies taking jobs out of Britain simply to take advantage of low pay.

An emergency resolution passed unanimously at the annual congress of the GMB in Blackpool yesterday viewed with "extreme concern" the decisions by BA, saying the "destruction of employment" in Britain was based on "greed, profit and a disregard for workers in the European Community". GMB officials said that in the absence of assurances over job security from the company, the union would consider balloting for industrial action.

A spokesman for BA denied the company had any plans to export jobs. The new venture in India, he said, was aimed at selling information technology and administrative services to other airlines and companies in other industries.

n More than 200,000 local government workers belonging to the GMB voted by a majority of 51 per cent to take industrial action in protest at a 2.9 per cent pay offer. Two other unions, Unison and the Transport & General, have already accepted the increase.

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