Remploy workers face a further wave of attacks as bosses plan to close an initial 36 factories and privatise a further 18, with a view to closure. Nearly 2,000 workers face compulsory redundancy.
The closures include the effective abolition of all Remploy employment in Wales, with just two of nine factories escaping the chop.
The move comes after the publication of a government-commissioned review into disabled workers’ employment conducted by Liz Sayce, the director of Disability Rights UK, which argued that the government should invest more into supporting individuals rather than subsidising protected employment. The report recommends redirecting money to the Access to Work fund, whose average spend per person is less than £3,000 and which has itself seen significant cuts. Sayce claims she wants to see loss-making factories turned round, but is clear that business and profit – not disabled workers’ needs – are the key starting point: “I think it is really important that those factories should be given a chance to show if they can be viable. I really think there should be good business support, and if somebody has got a good idea for how to turn something around and make a success of it, really go for it, good luck, and I really hope that works.”
Although Tory welfare minister Iain Duncan Smith has called protected employment “Victorian-era segregation”, the government’s plan for hiving off of welfare provision from government-run initiatives into the unaccountable charity sector (which is also seeing its public funding slashed) is the really “Victorian” aspect in the picture. It reduced disabled workers to victims who must rely on philanthropy for support rather than social provision to support them in leading independent lives.
Remploy was founded by the post-war Labour government in 1945 to offer protected employment for disabled workers. Remploy workers have faced a number of attacks, most focusing on factory closures, over the past period.
Phil Davies, GMB national secretary for Remploy, said “This decision to sack 1,752 people in 36 Remploy factories across the country is one of the worst decision that this discredited coalition government has taken since coming to office.”
Leading union activist Les Woodward said: “Angry is too small a word. It’s all part of the government cuts agenda. It’s got nothing to do with looking after disabled people, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. There are 54 Remploy factories employing 2,000 disabled people. All that is going to come out of this is that 2,000 disabled people are going to be added to the unemployment figures.”
Remploy shop stewards will meet on 26 and 27 March to discuss their fightback.