HSBC outsourcing claims infuriate unions

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HSBC provoked a furious confrontation with employment unions yesterday by saying workers in its overseas processing centres were more accurate than those in the UK.

HSBC provoked a furious confrontation with employment unions yesterday by saying workers in its overseas processing centres were more accurate than those in the UK.

The move drew outrage from Unifi, the finance union, which said it would meet employees tomorrow to discuss calling a strike at the high street bank. Unifi said in a statement: "HSBC appears to be saying that staff in the global call centres are better than UK staff and are attempting to justify their plans for transferring thousands of jobs with misleading statistics."

According to HSBC, which has been one of the first banks to set up extensive back office operations in developing countries where wages are low, those carrying out credit card, overdraft or other transactions make fewer mistakes than those who carry out the same functions in the UK. For every one million transactions processed overseas, eight mistakes are made, the bank said. In the UK, the ratio is 50 errors per one million transactions.

Rob O'Neill, a spokesperson for Unifi, said: "Our members will be furious that yet again, their skill, experience and dedication to customer service has been called into question by their employer." HSBC stressed that mistakes were very rare in the UK and overseas, and pointed out that when looking at call centres, rather than transaction processing, the record was exactly the same, at one error in every 1,000 calls.

The bank said it had not released the data to show up its British workers, but to demonstrate that the charge that overseas centres provided poor service was "empirically not true". "It is utterly unfair to staff overseas to say that UK staff are correcting their mistakes," a spokesperson said.

The clash will escalate the hostilities that already exist between HSBC and unions. The bank has come in for heavy criticism over its policy to outsource jobs. It announced the most far-reaching plans to date to transfer roles from the UK to Asia when it said last October that 4,000 jobs would go to India, China and Malaysia by the end of 2006.

Britain's largest bank, which made almost £7bn of profits last year, added two weeks ago that a further 3,500 jobs would be lost in the UK in back office functions, with 500 of those jobs being done overseas.

This will be partly counter-balanced by plans to add 1,000 employees in the UK in customer-facing positions in branches.

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