Concerned about losing your job in Newcastle? Just move to Mumbai

Minister tells outsourced call-centre workers they should take work on the subcontinent

During the Thatcher government, Norman Tebbit coined a phrase for the age when he advised the unemployed to do what his father did and "get on their bikes and look for work".

The rail minister Theresa Villiers is now being accused of bringing the philosophy up to date after appearing to tell sacked call-centre workers in Newcastle to relocate to Mumbai. A letter written by Ms Villiers to Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith has prompted anger from Labour and the unions, which have described the prospect of staff from the North-east being asked to move 5,000 miles to do the same job in India as "unhinged and unpatriotic".

The row follows the closure of Baron House, a former East Coast passenger call centre, which resulted in the loss of nearly 200 jobs and delivered a major blow to the region's struggling economy. A review of public contracts by the newly nationalised rail operator meant the existing provider, National Express, missed out to two other companies, one of which, Intelenet (UK) has operations in Plymouth and Mumbai.

It has now emerged that a third of those jobs have now been exported to India while the rest have been divided between centres in Wolverhampton and Devon. None of the workers from Newcastle relocated, a rail source said.

But in her letter Ms Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, sought to reassure Sir Alan that under Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE), their future was secure. She said: "These staff will be given the opportunity to transfer to the new service providers under TUPE where those services are to continue. Staff who are unable to move to the new location will be offered a voluntary redundancy package or alternatives roles within East Coast, where available." Maria Eagle, Labour's shadow Secretary of State for Transport, dismissed the suggestion as adding "insult to injury".

"The buck must stop with Theresa Villiers and her fellow ministers in this Tory-led Government," Ms Eagle said. "They should be offering support for those who risk losing their jobs rather than making ridiculous suggestions that they move to India."

East Coast has been in government hands since National Express gave up the loss-making franchise to operate trains between London and Edinburgh in 2009. RMT regional organiser, Craig Johnston, said the closure was a bitter blow to staff. "I doubt the Indian workers will enjoy anything like the same wages or conditions of employment enjoyed by those employed in Newcastle so this decision stinks of exploitation as well," he said.

A National Express East Anglia spokesperson confirmed that "all employees have now left the business". East Coast, which employed nine people at the call centre, said all its workers had either moved to other roles in the company or taken voluntary redundancy. A Department for Transport spokesman said: "National Express Services Ltd staff employed at Baron House will be given the opportunity to transfer to the new service provider under TUPE. Exactly how this works will be a matter for the new service provider."

North-East vs South Asia

Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Population 273,000 residents, making it England's 20th most populous city.

Climate Fog on the Tyne notwithstanding it is decidedly chilly. Average temperatures hover at 12C.

Famous daughter Super Geordie Cheryl Cole made her name in Girls Aloud but is better known as a judge in X Factor.

Top food The North-east has given the world the stottie cake (a type of bread roll), pease pudding (boiled split peas) and pan haggerty (potato, onions and cheese).

Where to go No trip to Tyneside is complete without a night down the famous Bigg Market.

Landmark Tyne Bridge opened in 1928 by George V, was the longest single span in the world.

Sport Known as the Magpies or the Toon, Newcastle United Football Club is the winner of four first division titles and six FA Cups.

Mumbai

Population The most populous city in India and the sixth biggest in the world, it boasts 12.5 million inhabitants.

Climate Tropical with monsoon season while temperatures average 27C.

Famous son The world's greatest batsman Sachin Tendulkar may be labouring in England this summer but in his native city he is idolised.

Top food Street food rules in Mumbai and among the favourite snacks is the calorific butter pav bhaji.

Where to go By day Chowpatty Beach is a place for strolling lovers and families; by night it turns into a vast open-air restaurant.

Landmark The Gateway of India was completed in 1924 to mark a visit by King George V and Queen Mary.

Sport Cricket is king in Mumbai and the city team is India's most successful, winning 39 Ranji Trophy championships.

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