London, Dec. 5: The loss of call centre jobs to India was defended today by Patricia Hewitt, Britain’s secretary for trade & industry, who said: “What’s good for India is good for Britain.”
Her comments, made today on BBC Radio 4’s flagship World at One, will not pacify the unions, notably the Communications Workers’ Union, who want the government to adopt something approaching protectionist measures to outlaw the outsourcing of jobs in IT, financial services and banking to India.
But Tony Blair’s government, which has fought and won a steel war with President George W. Bush, cannot now introduce protectionist policies which it had accused the US of adopting.
However, as a concession to the unions, the government today appointed an inquiry to look into the effects of outsourcing to India. There is no doubt that the loss of jobs to India has become a hot political issue in Britain.
Sally Bridge, of the Communication Workers’ Union, said today that when jobs were previously lost in manufacturing, redundant staff could expect to find something in call centres. Whole communities are now under threat, she said.
In response, Blair and other ministers have said Britain will have to use changes in the global economy to its advantage.
Today, it was the turn of Hewitt to spell out the consequences of the loss of jobs to India. She conceded: “For people who are losing their jobs in the northeast and elsewhere, this is dreadful.”
This was in response to the comment made by Bridge that job losses announced in the run-up to Christmas, when employers generally try to shield their workers from bad news, would hit staff especially hard.
Hewitt claimed that some call centre jobs were being created “in Bangor (Wales) as well as in Bangalore”. She urged the creation of “high value” jobs.
She admitted, however, that Britain would lose what she called “low value” call centre jobs to India, just as the US had lost similar jobs to Mexico.
The solution was not in protectionism, but in appreciating that if India did well, Britain would gain from increased trade. Britain, she said, sold more than it bought from India.