BT came under fire from trade unions yesterday after confirming plans to open two new call centres in India – a move that could put up to 1,200 jobs at risk in the UK.
The new centres in Bangalore and New Delhi, which will handle some of BT's directory inquiries operations, telemarketing and billing operations, will employ about 500 staff by the end of the month, rising to about 2,200 by March 2004.
BT pledged yesterday that none of its permanent employees in the UK would be made redundant as a result of the move and also promised that no agency staff working for BT Directories in the UK would have their contracts terminated.
The company would not, however, provide the same reassurance to the agency workers it employs – typically through agencies such as Hays and Manpower – for other work being moved to India.
The Communication Workers Union reacted angrily to the plans and pledged to stage a day of protest on 20 March at around 30 BT call centre and directory enquiry sites across the country.
"At the end of the day, 2,200 jobs worth of work is going to go to India and what we're saying is that that work can be undertaken in the UK by UK workers," a spokesperson for the CWU said. "BT is a UK company that derives its profits from UK customers and is therefore obliged to support the UK economy by employing UK workers."
BT admitted it was far cheaper to hire staff in India than it was in the UK. The average wage in India for call centre staff, it said, was about 75p to £1.25 an hour compared with £5 to £10 an hour in the UK. Total costs are expected to be about 30 per cent lower than in the UK.
The CWU said: "The pay of a call centre worker in India is approximately £3,000 per annum and, with technology now allowing for relatively cheap transmission, the company [BT] believes India can offer huge savings."
Of the 2,200 positions being created in India, BT said there would be about 700 directory inquiries posts but insisted they would be created through "natural wastage" among agency workers in the UK.
Pierre Danon, head of BT's consumer division BT Retail, said: "I have said that we do not aim to cut jobs in the UK only to recreate them in India. This is demonstrated by our commitment that no single permanent BT job will be cut as a result of setting up centres in India.
"For the agency people working on directory enquiries, we have also pledged that none of their contracts will be terminated." He added that for any future work moved to India "we will make every effort to meet any necessary reductions in agency posts through natural wastage".
Last year, the group announced a radical shake-up of its call centres in an effort to trim costs by £150m by 2004. It said then it planned to cut the number of its call centres to about 30 from 104 and would axe about 2,200 jobs, leaving it with some 13,600 call centre staff.
BT said yesterday that that project was "on target". "Significant improvements have been achieved already in customer satisfaction and the first year cost savings target of £86m has been reached on the way to reaching the two-year goal of £150m," it said.
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