A report into Remploy, the government-supported programme that provides employment for disabled people, could sound the death knell for the firm’s 54 British factories.
If they close, 2,500 disabled people will lose their jobs.
The Sayce report claims that Remploy’s disabled-only factories are expensive and unpopular.
It recommends that Remploy’s current government funding should instead be concentrated on individuals through the existing Access to Work programme.
If the government accepts the report, hundreds of disabled people will face an uncertain future.
Neil Box is a Unite union rep at Remploy’s Trentham Lakes plant in Stoke. He said the factory is like a family for the workers.
“Report author Liz Sayce is suggesting that we go into mainstream jobs, but there aren’t exactly loads of them available,” he said.
“No disrespect to my colleagues, but we would all struggle to get work elsewhere.
“We don’t want something for nothing, we are more than willing to work—we don’t want to be on benefits.”
Neil said that the Sayce report is based on falsehoods. “This report says that all the factories are empty,” he said.
“But after July we’ll be running at full capacity, including an extra shift in the afternoon to meet demand.
“I phoned Liz Sayce and spoke to her secretary to ask her to visit us. But we’ve had no response.”
Many workers at Trentham Lakes have been with Remploy for decades. Production operative Gary Hancock said, “I’ve been here since I was 19, and most people have been here 15, 20 or 30 years.
“If Remploy closes, people’s lives are going to be destroyed.”
Some workers are already fighting to defend the factories.
Workers at a Remploy factory in Porth, south Wales, staged a 48-hour demonstration last weekend.
They camped outside the factory, Egyptian-style, against the threat to close the plant.
GMB rep Mervyn Burnett said, “Yes it sounds good to encourage jobs for the disabled in the mainstream—but where are the jobs?
“In the Rhondda there are 33 people for every job. What real chance do the disabled have?”
Wendy has worked for Remploy for 23 years. She is skilled and works in computer recycling. But she said there are no other jobs like that around.
Others spoke of the difficulty of finding work. Dale said, “I spent two years at college then put in loads of job applications.
“I have just been taken on. Now I could lose it.”
Mervyn blamed “ineffective management” for the latest crisis.
He said, “Out of 2,500 workers there are 500 managers.
“The workforce has been deliberately run down—older workers have not been replaced.”
Mandy Webb, a union steward at the Abertillery site, said that there were once more than 80 people working at the site.
Now there are just 21.
Ian Lloyd, a union steward at the Croespenmaen factory, said the drop in numbers is not due to lack of work.
He said, “We get work sub-contracted to us from private firms as well as from government agencies. We could take more.”
There is a consultation period until 16 October. But Remploy workers are not sitting back and waiting.
They know from experience that they have to fight.
Four years ago, eight factories in Wales were targeted for closure.
But after a strong campaign they saved five, two were merged and only one closed.
There is likely to be a Remploy factory or employment agency near you. Give the workers your support.
For petitions and to send messages of support email firstname.lastname@example.org