Strike fears over BT outsourcing plan

A union is threatening strike action against BT's outsourcing plans, but the telco says it is not replacing UK jobs with overseas ones

BT may be hit by industrial action over a plan to shift directory enquiries jobs to India.

The Communication Workers' Union said that 700 workers may be affected by BT's outsourcing plans, and has contacted 3,500 workers outlining their intention to use "all means at our disposal to oppose the switching of work overseas, including industrial action if necessary."

The telco is the latest company to go down the outsourcing path in order to cut labour costs. The trend is also affecting technical workers, with some of BT's broadband technical support already outsourced.

BT would not confirm its plans, saying only that outsourcing was being considered.

If the CWU calls for strike action, other BT businesses could be affected, including customer service. The union said that it believes billing, customer service, planning and conferencing are also scheduled for outsourcing.

"Whilst it is only BT directories at the moment, our campaign is going to be across the whole of BT and all the workers," said CWU officer Sally Bridge.

BT has already outsourced broadband technical support to Client Logic, a Watford-based firm with a call centre in Bangalore, as well as several centres in the UK, according to Bridge. The company has a trial of 25 narrowband contract workers in Bangalore. "Client Logic currently have a contract to deal with technical support for 1,000 workers. If that work goes out then that is of major concern for the CWU," Bridge said.

India leads the outsourcing market, having a large English-speaking population, good levels of education and much lower wages than the UK. At a conference in London recently the president of Nasscom, India's National Association of Software and Service Companies, told delegates that "business process outsourcing" (BPO) allowed global companies to cut their IT budgets by 50 percent.

A BT spokesman stated: "It is true that we are considering whether to establish contact centres in India but we have not made a final decision. We would stress that, whatever decision is reached, we would not destroy BT jobs in the UK, only to recreate them in India. And, in line with our usual practice, anyone who wanted to stay with BT would be able to do so and be re-trained and re-skilled, if necessary."

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