Hundreds of disabled workers at Remploy sheltered factories across the country are set to be made redundant in just three weeks’ time, the company has confirmed.
Workers in many of the 27 factories that are facing imminent closure were told this week that their last day of employment would be 18 August, although neither unions nor Remploy bosses have so far been able to say exactly how many will be losing their jobs on that date.
The news came as workers prepared for their second one-day strike (on 26 July) over the terms of the redundancy package offered by Remploy.
Unions declared the first one-day strike last Thursday (19 July) “very successful”.
The GMB union said the “vast majority” of its Remploy members had taken part in the strike on 19 July, while about four-fifths of the factories did not have any staff on manual or supervisory grades turn up for work.
Remploy claimed “very large numbers” of workers ignored the strike call and that “in some factories, nobody went on strike”, while every one of its remaining 54 factories had been “open for business”.
It estimated that in 40 per cent of its factories “more than half the workforce” was at work on the day of the strike.
The Unite union said it knew of only four factories where no workers were on strike and that it did not agree that 40 per cent of sites had more than half of employees working, but was unable to give any further information.
Meanwhile, disabled campaigners and other activists have called for Remploy workers to raise the temperature of their national dispute.
A meeting called to fight the Remploy closures – which focused on the threatened factory in Barking, east London – heard from a string of left-wing and union activists who offered their support to striking disabled workers.
This week’s meeting – organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the national Right to Work campaign – heard that most of the workers at the Barking factory would be made redundant on 18 August.
Elane Heffernan, a disabled equalities officer with the University and College Union, said she believed Remploy workers would secure “phenomenal” support if they moved from one-day strikes to “a much more militant campaign”.
She said: “Don’t be in any doubt about the level of support. People are desperate to see any group of workers standing up.”
Mark Holloway, a disabled GMB union representative at the Barking factory, which manufactures electronics equipment and recycles computers, told the meeting it would be “an absolute disaster” if the factories were closed, because of “the worth it gives the people who work in them”.
He said disabled workers would be unlikely to find new jobs after Remploy, and if they did they would be exposed to harassment and bullying.
He said: “All they are going to is a life of isolation, bullying and intimidation.”
He told Disability News Service later: “I think we need to apply more pressure to the government and the company and maybe take the dispute to another level.”
Rob Murthwaite, a member of DPAC’s steering group, who joined the picket line at the Barking factory last week, accused Conservative ministers of “utter hypocrisy” for trying to force disabled people back to work through its welfare reforms and then making hundreds of disabled Remploy workers redundant.
The government announced in March that 36 of the remaining 54 Remploy factories across the UK would close by the end of 2012, with the loss of more than 1,500 disabled people’s jobs.
Detailed bids to take over nine of the 36 factories are currently being considered, and formal bids have to be submitted by 31 August.
Remploy said it aimed to complete negotiations for the nine factories – “if the bids are acceptable” – by the end of September.
A Remploy spokesman said: “I don’t think going on strike is going to achieve anything. It will not save any jobs and it can put at risk current contracts that we have and may deter prospective buyers for the nine factories.”
The government is also consulting with Remploy bosses over the future of the other 18 factories, Remploy’s employment services business and about 30 contracts providing CCTV services, to examine whether they could be sold or survive as social enterprises run by employees.
25 July 2012