Remploy was set up in 1947 to provide jobs for people with disabilities mainly as a result of the war. Remploy is not the only provider of supported employment in Britain, but it is the largest by far.
The current threat of factory closures in Remploy will be looked at with great concern by other providers. If the Remploy factory network is decimated then other providers will soon follow.
So what are the arguments for preserving Remploy factories?
Remploy factories are manufacturing sites and manufacturing seems to be a dirty word in Britain these days. We produce top quality goods. We do not sit around tables and basket weave. The factory that I work at in Swansea makes top quality furniture.
We have good quality employment under trade union negotiated terms and conditions.
Despite rafts of anti-discrimination legislation, disabled people are still discriminated against in the workplace. Disabled people in lower socio-economic groups are more likely to be unemployed and experience child poverty.
There are claims that Remploy had found 5,000 plus jobs for disabled people outside of the company. But these are a product of company spin.
The reality is that only 50 percent of those placed in employment are in the same job after five years. More than 50 percent of the remainder leave the placement within six months of starting. They either land back in the system or move on without Remploy.
The figures quoted are for placements. A high proportion of that number will be multiple placements of people who are on a job-benefit-job-benefit carousel.
We have seen colleagues who have been actively encouraged to leave the factories, take jobs with other employers and sever their links with Remploy.
They have then lost everything, because the company they were placed with needed to shed labour. As a disabled person, they were the first to go.
Crosfield Industries, a supported employer funded by Croydon council, closed last year with the loss of 87 disabled people’s jobs.
I am free to change my employment if I so wish. I choose to stay in Remploy Swansea because I have good terms and conditions.
I have learnt new skills and experienced new challenges. I am a member of the pension scheme and I feel I have invested 24 years of my life at Remploy.
The claims made that there will be no disabled person made compulsorily redundant are a red herring.
I and my colleagues do not want to be sitting around the house getting paid by the company for doing nothing.
At the moment we have the choice whether or not to work in a Remploy factory. If our factories are taken away then we will not have that choice and neither will the coming generation of disabled people.
There is very little evidence to show that the company and the government have taken the changes in legislation on public procurement seriously.
It is now legal for a public body to reserve contracts for supported employers without fear of litigation.
In fact the government recommends that public bodies should reserve at least one contract for supported employers.
If we had a small percentage of the work generated by public spending it would ensure that Remploy factories would be viable.
The trade unions have put together an alternative plan to restructure Remploy into a company that is fit for purpose and that can serve disabled people in the 21st century.
The crisis of funding is due mainly to the incompetence of the board of directors and the way that Remploy is currently structured.
There are 11 business groups that are virtually autonomous. The senior business managers have been allowed to build and secure their own empires.
This creates duplication in areas such as waste management and purchasing. We envisage a leaner, fitter Remploy that fits in with government expectations to get more people off benefit and into work.
The Remploy shops and the factories should work hand in hand for the benefit of their local communities.
Remploy factories could be used as a stepping stone to get people back into work after an accident or an illness. They could also be used for long term employment for people for whom employment in open industry will not be an option.
The statements that there is no way other than to close the factories are simply not true.
The future of supported employment in Britain is now at crisis point. The government should halt the closure programme in order that viable alternatives can be explored and implemented at a sensible pace.
Alternatively, it will al low the steam-rollering of the closure programme which will result in disabled people being catapulted into jobs for which they are not suitable or do not wish to have.
The unions will not stand by and let New Labour destroy Remploy factories.
Les Woodward is the GMB union shop steward at Remploy Swansea and the national convenor of Remploy trade union consortium