GMB urges government to investigate BA’s use of visa system

Union claims airline will outsource 900 jobs to India – then return staff to UK on Tier 2 visas

Trade union GMB has called on MPs to investigate British Airways’ plans to outsource up to 900 specialist IT jobs to an Indian contractor, which the union claims represents a breach of immigration rules.

GMB said around 900 IT roles at the airline will be made redundant, before they are outsourced to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) – whose parent company is currently embroiled in the UK steel crisis.

These replacement workers – who would return to the UK under an intra-company transfer (ICT) – would earn around £10,000 per year with £8,400 in expenses, it is claimed. Current Home Office rules require a minimum yearly wage of £24,800 for foreign workers under the Tier 2 visa.

GMB, which represents around 11,000 BA employees, first wrote to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and the Home Office in December 2015 to question the airline’s reported plans to replace staff employed in its IT department with workers recruited in India and transferred to the UK on Tier 2 visas.

Under current Tier 2 visa rules, a non-EU worker cannot replace a permanent UK employee, and cannot be sponsored to undertake an ongoing routine role, or to provide an ongoing routine service for a third party. Instead, foreign workers must provide a time-bound service or project.

Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said there was “no way” the 900 workers could be classed as contractors working on a specific project. Come April, when BA’s outsourcing plans are set to be completed, non-EU workers on Tier 2 visas will be performing the exact same routine as current BA IT staff, he claimed, but for less than half the price.

In a statement, BA said: “IT services are now provided globally by a range of suppliers and this is very common practice across all industries and the UK government.

“A contract has been signed with TCS to be the supplier of some IT activities in British Airways, and BA has been in consultation with those IT staff affected – about 200.”

GMB’s intervention follows research from the MAC in January, which reported the misuse of Tier 2 visas, “predominantly within the IT sector”. Tier 2 visas include ICTs that allow IT suppliers with UK operations to bring in staff from overseas, which “cuts companies’ IT costs but does not sufficiently contribute to the stock of IT skills within the UK”, the MAC report said. The committee found that TCS made use of 6,000 ICTs during 2015.

The government will implement some of the committee’s recommendations – including a £1,000 annual skills levy per worker. From 2017, the Home Office will introduce a higher minimum salary threshold of £41,500 for those recruited through ICTs, which Andy Chamberlain, deputy director of policy at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, said would help address abuse of ICT rules by large outsourcing companies.

“For a long, long time we have been concerned that ICT permits are open to abuse from clients seeking to minimise their wage bill. Too often, IT contractors find themselves unfairly displaced as large IT outsourcing firms exploit the rules to bring in workers from overseas,” he said.

“This new announcement should help to level the playing field for independent professionals running their own IT micro-businesses.”

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