Hewitt calls summit to stem loss of jobs to Asia

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The Independent Online

Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will hold a summit with business and trades unions today to discuss the controversial move by increasing numbers of UK companies to transfer jobs to Asia.

The Department of Trade and Industry agreed to the meeting after sustained lobbying from unions for the Government to set up a commission to grapple with the potentially highly damaging effects of outsourcing on Britain's economy.

About 50 groups will attend the meeting, which will be conducted under secret Chatham House rules. They include the financial giants HSBC and Aviva, which have both announced major job transfers to India, and the IT giant EDS.

Unions including Amicus, Unifi and Unison will also attend, along with trade groups such as the CBI and the Institute of Directors. Nationwide, Britain's biggest building society, will also be there as a representative of a business which has chosen to buck the trend by locating new processing jobs in Britain.

A union source said those representing employees were not pressing for "protectionism". But he added: "We want to explore how it can have happened that since October, it has been said that 15,000 jobs will be outsourced."

The Government has made clear it does not want to actively intervene in companies' rights to employ staff in whatever locations they chose. But it is coming under mounting pressure to do something to help support areas of the UK where processing and call centre jobs have become an important source of livelihood.

Some unions fear a repeat of the decimation of manufacturing industry in the 1980s, which saw three million jobs lost to Asia, leaving some parts of the UK with very high levels of unemployment. The issue is particularly sensitive because it is in those areas that many of the call centre and processing businesses have grown up.

A DTI spokesman said: "We want to keep on as many jobs as we can in the UK, which is why we are bringing together business leaders, unions and academics to look at the impact of outsourcing and to consider why some companies are choosing to offshore while others have decided to create jobs in the UK."

Ms Hewitt will give the opening address at the conference, while the trade minister Mike O'Brien will chair the discussions. The DTI is carrying out research into the effects of outsourcing which it plans to complete by the end of next month.