Conglomerate offered £1.7m by Invest NI to create hundreds of minimum wage call handler roles

L-R: Adam Foster chief executive of Hinduja Global Solutions UK; Kevin Holand chief executive of Invest NI; economy minister Diane Dodds; and Mark Hooper, chief financial officer HGS UK.

INVEST NI has offered a multi-billion dollar Anglo-Indian conglomerate £1.695 million of public funds to create hundreds of minimum wage home-based call handler jobs in the north.

Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS), which is part of the Mumbai-based Hinduja Group, said it has already employed 100 remote workers here, with plans to expand that to 565 over the next three years.

Despite the company yesterday dismissing comparisons with call centres and highlighting a broad range of ‘business process management’ roles available, HGS yesterday posted 500 customer service/call handler vacancies on its recruitment website for Northern Ireland, offering just £8.91 per hour, with the requirement that staff provide their own laptop or desktop PC.

The roles appear to involve the UK Government’s Covid-19 response, with call handlers answering questions about the pandemic and supporting vaccine bookings.

The call handlers will also be expected to support callers “who are worried or struggling with the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

It’s understood the requirement for the 500 new recruits to reside in Northern Ireland is linked to the Invest NI financial support.

Invest NI has said the 565 positions will eventually generate around £10m in salaries, averaging out at £17,000 to £18,000 per year.

Invest NI also highlighted the regional distribution of the roles, stating that the 100 staff recruited by HGS to date were spread across the 11 district council areas.

HGS employs around 41,000 people across 59 delivery centres in seven countries.

The company's UK chief executive, Adam Foster, said the HGS strategy involves opening regional hubs depending on where new staff are based.

“What we’ve done is we’ve looked at a heat map of where people have applied for roles with us and been successful and then we’ve made investments.

“In the case of Northern Ireland, I have no fixed perception of where the hubs will be. But there is a clear intent that we will invest in a number of hubs to support the workforce.”

The chief executive said the move into Northern Ireland has been on the company’s agenda for at least four years.

“Because of general business circumstance, we were not in a position to make this decision earlier, but our business has grown dramatically.”

He said yesterday that some staff would be supplied with IT equipment, but said new recruits using their own laptops would help the company to scale quickly.

Responding to criticism of the company posted by employees on websites such as Glassdoor, Mr Foster said: “In any organisation that employs the scale of people we have, individuals might have different experiences.

“The one I would say is that on a monthly basis I get a report of all the positive and negative feedback on Glassdoor.

“And with any negative feedback, we contact the individual, because we’re constantly striving to be better.”

Invest NI’s chief executive, Kevin Holland said: “A project of this scale and type helps contribute to a balanced spread of economic development and recovery across Northern Ireland.

“It helps address the barriers some people face to access quality employment and this can help reduce economic inactivity.

“This particular project has diverse roles including customer agents, managers, and support roles. I know the HGS team is committed to delivering these new roles and growing beyond. We in turn are keen to ensure their Northern Ireland experience meets and then exceeds their expectations.”

Speaking in one of her final public appearances as economy minister on Wednesday, Diane Dodds said the HGS UK move offers employment options for people in rural communities and those attracted to working from home.

“This also brings environmental benefits including reduced energy use and costs, along with less travelling for staff, less time away from home leading to improved work-life balance, less stress and more flexibility," she said.

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