Disabled workers at two Remploy factories in Chesterfield in Derbyshire and Springburn, Glasgow, struck this week.
Remploy, which is owned by the government, provides jobs for workers with disabilities. It has shut 24 factories in Britain in the last month.
Now the government plans to sell off the Glasgow and Chesterfield factories, among others. Workers are worried, and with good reason, that their jobs will be at risk if the plant is sold.
On the picket line in Springburn on Monday morning, Derek told Socialist Worker, “They are talking about new employers for Springburn, but we get conditions here that recognise our disabilities.
“These include things such as time to see a doctor. We negotiated a four-day week because mobility is a serious problem here. We also get paid 50 percent of our travel costs back. Would a private company do that?”
They are particularly concerned that redundancies might be made on the basis of the severity of workers’ disabilities. The workers have accused the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of removing the obligation on any future employers to provide pensions at the factory.
Another Glasgow striker, John, added, “We don’t want benefits or redundancy payments, we want to work. I’ve been here for 31 years. Where would I go? We don’t want to live off benefits, we want to work. We want to keep these factories open.”
Socialist Worker has received reports of those employed through the “Interwork programme” losing their jobs as part of the closure project.
Interwork is where a Remploy worker is offered work with a mainstream employer, subsidised for three years. But as the Remploy factories have closed these workers have also lost their jobs.
Joyce returned to the Springburn factory two years ago after being sacked by the Halifax bank when it announced redundancies.
She explained, “After 26 years with Remploy, I just want to know what’s happening as nobody tells us anything. We don’t have any choice now—we just have to keep fighting for our jobs.”
Unfortunately the union’s leadership has moved on from trying to keep Remploy factories open. The focus is now on defending the conditions of workers who may be privatised.
Yet again, the determination of the Remploy workers can be seen on picket lines. But that determination was not matched by the union leaderships, who could have mobilised far more to save those factories that have closed.
There is still time to save the remaining factories. But that would mean the full weight of the union movement being put to the cause of the Remploy workers.
Disabled workers sacked by Remploy have received one more insult. They have been taxed on their redundancy pay at a rate of 40 percent. This comes on top of the stress of losing their jobs and being pushed into work capability assessments.
Workers were already angry that those being sacked now will receive less in redundancy payments than workers who took voluntary redundancy last year.
The 40 percent tax charge is apparently an administrative error. But workers will have to apply for a refund that they may receive at the end of the tax year.
One Remploy worker told Socialist Worker, “Why should everyone have to wait until April 2013 to get their own money? I’m not convinced this was accidental after the way we have be treated.”
Chesterfield Remploy workers march, Saturday 8 September. Assemble 12.30 at the Town Hall