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Members of Unison, the UK's largest union, voted for a motion to oppose ID Cards yesterday at its annual conference in Bournemouth.

Conference delegates were also fed the usual dubious stories about the foreign countries taking on work for Britain's public sector under offshore outsourcing deals. The union managed to say foreigners working for the NHS were threatening lives, without directly calling up the jingoistic stereotype of lazy, incompetent chancers.

Unison members were even more bilious on the subject of ID cards than they were foreign firms, at least according to a statement they put out.

Delegates where concerned that ID cards would be used by the state to discriminate against black and Asian Britons.

ID cards are a "form of state racism", said Medhi Hassan, "a British muslim...from Tower Hamlets".

They might also embody the inequality of the system it said because poor people, whose circumstances are typically less stable than the middle class masses, would be forced to pay repeatedly to have their ID database records updated.

Yet in a different session, members were told that offshore outsourcing, which some people say helps reduce income disparities between rich and poor countries, was a "false economy".

"Life-threatening mistakes" had been made by bungling foreigners in India, the Philippines and South Africa, who where paid by NHS trusts to transcribe British patient records. British Unison administrators had been made redundant after the work was sent abroad.

The foreigners were making mistakes, it said, because they "do not have the benefit of supporting medical notes, letters and prescriptions against which to check the accuracy of their transcriptions".

Unison did not say why these supporting documents could not be given to the transcribers, nor did it say how many "anecdotal" examples it had collected of British lives being threatened by fumbling foreign typists. It did mention that there was a two per cent error rate among its own typists. Their mistakes were presumably of a better calibre than those made by the foreign workers.

Funny that, because many of those overseas workers doing the typing were doctors and medical students. Unison reckoned they were being exploited. Perhaps they should join the union? ®

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