UNIONS and politicians have reacted angrily to plans to axe more than 400 Wearside call centre jobs.
Energy giant npower announced yesterday it plans to transfer 430 backroom posts from its Rainton Bridge call centre to India, as part of a massive revamp which will see it close centres in Peterlee, Thornaby and Stoke.
Npower has about 1,250 employees in Peterlee, divided between three offices – Tyne House, Tees House and Wear House.
Under the plans announced yesterday, Tees House will close, and ownership of Wear House will transfer to contact services firm Capita.
About 110 staff will also transfer to Capita and some 630 will transfer to Rainton.
Tyne House, which has about 500 employees, is unaffected.
The Thornaby centre employs approximately 500 people, who will be offered a position elsewhere, mainly at Rainton Bridge.
Npower is starting a 60-day consultation programme with the 430 staff whose jobs are under threat.
Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson, whose constituency covers the site, said: “The announcement from npower is a devastating blow for staff at Rainton Bridge, especially with Christmas just around the corner.
“Over 400 families face the prospect of going into the new year trying to secure work in an increasingly tough North-East jobs market.
“I want to see npower taking responsibility for its decision. They need to put in place a support package that goes above and beyond what is required by law.
“In the meantime, I will be working with Sunderland City Council and JobCentre Plus to see what more can be done at a local level.”
GMB northern region senior organiser Colin Smith accused the firm of playing politics with people’s lives.
He said: “Everyone is devastated – there is still a lack of clarity and the staff have demanded more details.
“Nobody in any of the trade unions knew about Capita until Wednesday morning, when the Daily Telegraph ran the story – Capita was not even on the radar.
“The company has to have briefed the Telegraph about that.”
A staff briefing had left as many questions as it answered, he said.
“The briefing has caused a lot of confusion,” said Mr Smith.
“There is still a lack of clarity and staff have demanded more information.”
Union leaders are due to meet management formally on Monday.
North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham said: “Our thoughts and sympathies are with those impacted by this announcement, which will affect hundreds of families and many businesses across the North East.
“At a time when many companies are reaping the benefits of repatriating or “re-shoring” work back to the UK, it is extremely disappointing to see npower doing the opposite.
“This news is a huge blow to the regional service sector, which has made significant strides in its recovery from the recession over the last year or so.”
Gareth Pickles, npower’s customer service director, said the company remained committed to the region: “Today’s announcement would mean a lot of changes but our commitment to the North East remains very strong.
“There will still be around three and a half thousand people in the region helping npower customers every day.”