The decision yesterday to all but shut down Remploy as a state run company and an employer which provides employment for disabled people shows that the ConDem Government will stoop to any level no matter how low. As Len McCluskey said rightly the decision is ‘barbaric’.
Having dealt with the management of Remploy for a number of years, and was a member of the Remploy review group under Labour (the then Minister was Jonathan Shaw, an honourable man) I know how valued Remploy factories are to the workers and their families. I have negotiated with Remploy managers, represented our members, attended union meetings and campaigned side by side with them as part of Friends of Remploy.
The last Labour Government worked hard to keep Remploy as intact as it was possible – even though some sites closed, the strategy was to try to get into new markets – virtual closure and sell offs were never on the agenda of the Labour Government or the senior management’s for that matter.
Jobs at Remploy provide decent and secure employment for some severely disabled workers. In the past I have met Unite and GMB members who were blind, had severe learning difficulties, were physically disabled – going to work for many of those workers in Remploy factories provided safe, sympathetic and caring employment.
They look out for each other. Those requiring special help are given it willingly. They work with dignity. Now they will be condemned to unemployment or at best offered jobs in employment environments that are not suitable -reliant on benefits and dedicated carers.
Remploy factories were set up after World War Two to help those injured in the war. Turning a profit didn’t come into it. Over the years Remploy have got into new markets including manufacturing furniture, IT, white goods as well as producing packaging and bookbinding – they work they did in the latter area was superb. The workforce is dedicated, honest and hard working.
The Tory Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller has said that the state-run Remploy sites will be closed by the end of the year as they were not financially viable. Miller was had to be dragged to the Commons to answer questions in person sneaking out the decision via a written ministerial statement.
36 factories are listed to close as soon as possible.
18 factories will be sold off, (including the packaging sites I am told) or moved to Social Enterprises, Workers Co-ops over an 18 month period, but will have to be self funding.
Over 1700 workers face being thrown onto the dole, over 1500 of them disabled workers.
Just read what Neil Box, who has been working at Remploy for almost 19 years. He is a leading hand at the Trentham factory, helping to care for and motivate the staff: “We knew something big was happening, but we didn’t know what. Never did I think in my wildest dreams that the government could be so severe and finish the whole lot like that. We don’t basket weave; we produce high quality goods for major companies. We’ve got a lad called Jimmy who we have to take home because he even comes in to work on holidays. How are we going to explain to some of them that we’re shutting for good? Some of the workers didn’t even realise what was going on, so we had to phone their carers to explain the news to them.”
The author of the report Liz Sayce and the minister Maria Miller should hang their heads in shame at this despicable act.
I have no doubt that the trade union movement will rally behind the workers at Remploy to fight this appalling decision. These are some of the most vunerable workers in the UK’s workforce.
We must now support Remploy workers and shame the Government into reversing the decision and finding a long term solution based the needs of the workforce.We have done it before – we can do it again.