Workers protest over call-centre outsourcing

Unionised call centre workers walked out of their offices as the row between the communications union and BT heated up

Hundreds of BT directory enquiry employees who are members of the Communications Workers Union walked out of their offices between 11.30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Thursday in protest at BT's plan to open call centres in India.

Companies are increasingly turning toward outsourcing many jobs, including high-tech services such as software development and business processes, to countries with lower labour costs. Call centres have become an initial flashpoint for worker anger over the issue.

BT Retail chief executive Pierre Danon said in a statement: "While I fully respect the Communication Workers Union's role in representing their members' interests, some of their words are distorting the true situation and helping no one."

BT Retail has 34 call centres in the UK handling directory enquiries, which employ 4,000 staff.

Danon accused the CWU of leading to the breakdown of negotiations over moving call centre staff to India, saying "it was the union that walked away from the negotiating table".

A spokesman from CWU responded: "He is saying nobody will lose their job. But on the other hand, there will be no new work and no new jobs. If you are living in a remote area your job will not go anywhere."

In an earlier statement, BT said its Next Generation Contact Centre (NGCC) reorganisation will reduce the number of its call centres in the UK from 104 to 31, with call centre workers cut from 16,000 to 14,000.

Initial figures from the CWU point to between 75 and 100 supporters from each of the 34 directory enquiry call centres that joined the protest. The protest also drew support from workers within other sectors, including bank workers from Abbey National in Milton Keynes.

A BT spokesman stated less than one per cent of the total number of people working in BT's call centres took part in the protests held outside the premises targeted by the CWU around the UK. At four centres - Kingstanding, Cardiff, Middlesborough, and Dundee - there were no reports of any protest activity.

The CWU is receiving support from trade union group Amicus and banking union Unify, and intends to run a united campaign to lobby the government over the issue.


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