10 December 2003 More than 300 finance sector unions from 48 countries have united to form an unprecedented global movement against offshore outsourcing.
In the first gathering of the self-styled Union Network International (UNI) yesterday, members of the UK’s Amicus union lobbied British members of European Parliament for a full-scale European inquiry into the issue, claiming that millions of jobs are being lost to low-cost centres such as India and South America.
Among the MEPs at the meeting was Theo Bouwman, the chairman of the all-party employment and social affairs committee. He is understood to be considering the matter before making his recommendations.
Further meetings of the UNI are planned in the New Year, including a major Amicus European conference in February 2004.
Union opposition to ‘offshoring’ has been building for some time, but recent announcements by insurance giant Aviva and banking organisation HSBC to send IT, administration and back-office functions overseas has intensified the debate in the UK.
Amicus’s national officer for finance, David Fleming, said he hoped a European inquiry would go further than the UK government study announced last week by Patricia Hewitt, the trade and industry secretary.
Hewitt dismayed union leaders when she said the scope of the UK probe would be to expose the “myths” surrounding the issue of offshore outsourcing.
“We also must challenge the myth that protectionism offers any sort of solution,” the minister said. “We cannot argue liberalisation abroad and practise protectionism at home. However strong the short-term case for protectionism appears to be, the long-term costs are far greater for consumers and for jobs.”
But Kevin Curran, the general secretary of the GMB union, said: “The impact of offshoring is not a ‘myth’. Just ask the thousands who have already lost their jobs.”
Deloitte Research estimates that two million jobs will migrate from western economies to India by 2008. Many of those will be skilled business service jobs, rather than low-skilled call centre roles, the analyst firm said.