Between Thursday and Saturday of this week the government will create the latest victims in its war against disabled people. Around 2,000 workers at Remploy which provides work for disabled people are threatened with redundancy.
Some 27 of Remploy’s 54 factories will close by the end of the year. Some will be gone by this weekend. A further nine factories face an uncertain future and the remaining 18 are due to close next year.
The government claims the factories are unviable but even Remploy bosses say sales have grown by over 12 percent this year.
The Bolton factory is due to close on Thursday. Bill, a worker there, told Socialist Worker, “The mood is sad and people feel washed out. Our people think it’s a real shame. It should have been saved.”
In Wigan 38 workers will be out of work by the end of the week. Brian, a GMB union rep there, said, “It is upsetting and the fact we are losing our jobs is hitting home.
“It is so frustrating. People know they are never going to get another job. Management offered a redundancy package, but not as good as the voluntary redundancy offered last year.”
At the Long Rock factory in Cornwall, Colin says he fears for the future. “It’s awful,” he said. “We have had tears, some people have not been able to come into work and have been to see the doctor. It’s a really worrying time.”
The unions are talking about getting a fair deal for Remploy workers. So far the signs of that happening aren’t promising. This is not just a fight for better redundancy pay—it is a fight for the right to work.
Unions were wrong to call off the latest strike despite two very well supported days earlier. So far the promised high profile political campaign that was meant to replace strikes has been anything but.
This should be a major issue. The workers are members of two giant unions—Unite and the GMB—which have almost two million members between them.
Some workers transferred to other sites in previous rounds of closures. That looks unlikely this time.
Richard has worked at Worksop Remploy for 11 years. He said, “Only 2 percent of workers from the Mansfield Remploy factory found jobs when it closed and they came here. Where are they going to go now?”
“What a disgrace!” is how the latest union leaflet begins, and indeed it is. But it also will be a disgrace if union leaders ignore the bravery and determination of Remploy workers.
The fight to save Remploy jobs is not over. But time is running out. In some factories inspectors from Atos Healthcare have already turned up to assess people.
Sacked Remploy workers will be found “fit to work”. They will be put on Job Seekers Allowance or put onto Employment and Support Allowance for 12 months and then put on Job Seekers Allowance.
One worker told Socialist Worker, “It’s been chaos. We have these one to one interviews but some people thought we were meant to boycott them. Others thought you won’t get redundancy if you go in.
“Some are bitter. We were told there would be strike pay. But in the GMB it turned out you get it after three strike days—and they called the third day off. We’ve had to put hardship requests in which felt like begging.”
Occupations and the solidarity of the labour movement could save the Remploy factories. Remploy workers have shown their determination. The question is whether union leaders are prepared to support them or will watch the factories close.
No guarantees for workers set to transfer
The government want to sell off Remploy factories and throw thousands of disabled people on the dole. Some 27 factories are set to close before the end of the year.
Nine factories are expected to be sold off to private firms with no guarantees of job security. Workers in the factories that are being sold off will get lower pensions than they expected.
The committee that decides which factories get sold off and who to is secret—as are the reasons behind its decisions
Bosses get a bonus for ruining lives
Managers at Remploy factories are grabbing bonuses if the factories close on schedule. Every time there has been a programme of closures, Remploy managers have received bonuses.
In the year 2007-8, 325 of Remploy’s 500 senior managers shared more than £1.6 million in bonuses. During the same period, Remploy implemented a plan of factory closures involving 29 of its 83 factories. The government said they were not cost effective.
This time round bosses handed themselves £1.5 million in bonuses last November. The directors went ahead with 288 bonuses and then embarked on a redundancy programme.
Directors were handed bonuses of up to £15,000 each. They include benefits that amount to more than the annual salaries earned by workers.
Chief executive Tim Matthews, who once listed drinking champagne among his interests in Who’s Who, took home a record total package of £180,000.
In the past three years consultants have worked with Remploy on the redundancy and other “modernisation programmes”. They have been paid more than £6 million in bonuses by the firm.
Tory sums don’t add up
The Tories claim employing a Remploy worker costs £25,000—compared to the £3,000 cost of giving a disabled person an Access to Work grant.
But while Remploy employed 5,217 workers last year, its annual report notes it also “found 20,079 jobs in mainstream employment for disabled people”. That means that each Remploy job cost less than £4,000 using the government’s own measure.
Kevin, a Remploy worker in Wales, said, “There were 11 factories in Wales five years ago. There will be four after next week. How many factories will there be after next April?”