Union threat to BT over 'export' of call-centre jobs to India

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The Independent Online

The telecoms giant BT was threatened yesterday with industrial action over fears that about 200,000 call-centre jobs are being "exported" to India.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) claimed the jobs would be "shipped abroad" over the next five to 10 years to take advantage of wages that are barely a fifth of those paid in Britain.

Whereas full-time employees here are paid about £15,000, their colleagues in India, who are made to undergo bizarre lessons in popular British culture before speaking to customers in this country, receive about £3,000.

The annual conference of the CWU heard how staff in India were made to watch television programmes like EastEnders and Coronation Street so they could chat to British customers. They often had to answer the phone by giving English names such as Molly so that they could "interact" with clients in the UK, delegates were told.

The company caused controversy when it announced plans to create 2,200 customer service jobs in Bangalore in a bid to make cost savings.

Mark Taggart, an executive member of the CWU, told the conference in Bournemouth that the number of jobs being lost in the UK were reaching "catastrophic" levels.

"It is crude exploitation and it is simply about making more profits. Most companies are currently turning to India but it could soon be Malaysia or China," he said. "We will continue to protest and if necessary we will take strike action."

BT was also accused of bringing technicians to Britain from India and paying them half the wage rates enjoyed by existing employees.

Jeannie Drake, joint deputy general secretary, said she had asked BT for details two weeks ago before taking any further action, but she was still waiting for a reply.

A company spokesman said the accusation that Indian workers were taken on at lower rates was "simply not true".

¿ Leaders of nearly 150,000 postal workers are drawing up plans for a "substantial" pay claim backed up by the threat of industrial action, it was announced yesterday. Dave Ward, the newly elected joint deputy general secretary of the CWU, which represents some 150,000 Royal Mail staff, said a campaign would be launched to win a basic salary of £300 a week, compared to £261 now.

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