I am usually laid back but I was so angry that day I had chest pains,” says Adam Jones, a worker at Remploy Birkenhead central cutting unit, about the day he was told his factory was earmarked for closure.
Under proposals announced in May, the central cutting unit, with 10 other Remploy factories, is to be merged with a nearby site and a further 32 factories will be closed – in total more than half of Remploy’s 83 factories. About 2,270 disabled people are set to be affected by the changes to the government-funded company that provides employment to disabled people.
Since the announcement, there have been numerous sleepless nights for the workers at the cutting unit. Many have worked at the factory for more than 10 years, and are opposed to moving to another site run by Remploy over the road. The unit under threat, which employs 41 people, 33 of whom are disabled, makes items including police protection suits, health care products and life jackets. The other site focuses on soft furnishings, so the move would change their jobs substantially, workers say.
They also fear that the plans represent the first tranche of closures and that eventually all of Remploy’s factories will be shut.
The employees in the 32 factories earmarked for closure may soon be in this position. When it announced the proposals, Remploy pledged that no disabled person would be made compulsorily redundant, and that workers would be helped to find jobs with other local employers on their Remploy terms and conditions and wages.
But Les Woodward, of the GMB trade union and its convenor for the Remploy workforce, says that the Remploy pledge is only guaranteed while this government is in power, and that any future government could overturn it.
Remploy argues that sheltered employment does not allow disabled people to progress and develop, and that given the right support “almost all” can work in mainstream companies. It says the factories being closed make a loss, which it puts at more than £1.1m a year for the Birkenhead cutting unit – a figure the workers dispute – and that instead it will transfer these resources to find 20,000 jobs every year for disabled people by 2012.
But the Birkenhead workers question where the jobs are coming from and argue that for many mainstream employment is not an option because of their disabilities. They are also sceptical about the types of jobs they will be helped to find, arguing that their current roles involve skilled cutting procedures.
Mencap, Mind, Leonard Cheshire, Radar, Scope and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People support the direction of the Remploy proposals. But the Royal National Institute of Blind People has criticised its counterparts for giving “unequivocal support” to the plans.
An RNIB spokesperson says that, although it is important to help disabled people into mainstream employment, there needs to be a “halfway house”, where workers are provided with support and a job.
“Otherwise, what you have is a black hole between the supported work environment and the mainstream. You need to build a bridge between the two.”
Case Study – Frank Wilson (Quality Inspector)
Case Study – Steve Lamb (Team Leader)
Case Study – Adam Jones (Office and shopfloor worker)
Service User Voice: Disabled jobs on the line
Remploy staff to march on government
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This article appeared in the 9 August issue under the headline “Rage at Remploy cuts”