Thursday, 4 August 2011

Attacks on Remploy threaten jobs and a vital service

The coalition government has commissioned a report on the future of Remploy, a company that finds work for disabled people and employs disabled people in its factories. The Sayce Report has said that all 54 Remploy factories should be scrapped and the employment service should be privatised. The government has said it is 'minded to accept' the report and has launched a three month consultation ending on 17 October. If, as seems likely, the government accepts the recommendations of the report, this would not only threaten thousands of jobs but remove a vital service from disabled people both now and in the future.

Remploy began after the Second World War as a way of finding employment for disabled people. The Remploy website says,
"Remploy was established in April 1945 under the 1944 Disabled Persons (Employment) Act introduced by Ernest Bevin, the Minister for Labour. The first factory opened in 1946 at Bridgend in South Wales making furniture and violins. Many of the workers were disabled ex-miners but as the factory network grew, employment was provided for disabled people returning from the Second World War... Remploy's factory network manufactures products in a range of business sectors including school furniture, motor components and chemical, biological and nuclear protection suits for police and military. And latterly, as the UK manufacturing environment has changed, expansion into the service sector led to the creation of such businesses as front/back office outsourcing and electrical appliance re-cycling. Today, we remain one of the UK's largest employers of disabled people."
This is not the first time Remploy factories have come under attack. 29 factories were closed in March 2008. The GMB announced in February that Remploy workers had been granted a strike ballot and predict that implementation of the Sayce Report would lead to 2,500 job losses.

Liz Sayce, author of the report, works for a disabled people's charity, Radar, who are known to be against Remploy as a model for disabled people. The report argues that 'disabled people should be treated as part of the mainstream labour force and should no longer be employed in sheltered workshops' and that 'more people with disabilities could find jobs if existing funding for employment support was spent more efficiently'. Now it may or may not be the case that there are better models for getting disabled people into work, but the fact is this is a red herring. At a time when there are no jobs for able-bodied people and the government is making more public sector employees redundant, the idea that all, or even most, disabled people will find jobs is ludicrous.

The report also makes a big deal of saying that each employee is subsidised by £25,000. This is very misleading. This figure includes a proportion of all the company's 'central costs'. These workers do not get anything like this figure. It is clearly a propoganda point designed to turn public sympathy away from them at a time of 'austerity' when we are all told we have to make 'sacrifices'. The fact is, even from a cold, cynical, financial point of view it is very unlikely that the taxpayer would save any money by throwing these people on the scrapheap. Instead of being productive members of society, these people would be stuck at home on benefits. Without the support of their colleagues thay may also require further social care and health care with all the costs that implies.

This is part of a government agenda to use the economic crisis as an excuse to make a redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich via job losses, privatisation and cuts to the services working class people depend on. As in many other areas the government is picking on some of the most vulnerable people in society. This blog has mentioned before how the cuts are disproportionately affecting disabled people and this is just another example of that. Workers need to stick together and support each other; a victory for one really is a victory for all. If the Remploy workers defeat the government it will make it easier for us to defeat all the other attacks coming from the government.

Colin Grey is the GMB rep at Remploy in Penzance. He spoke about the difference Remploy makes to people's lives. He explained how Remploy works with the local Truro & Penwith College. A lecturer at the college came to them explaining how he has young disabled people at the college that he wanted to experience the world of work. He had tried every employer in the area to take these young people for just one day a week and not one single employer had agreed. In the end he turned to Remploy and they took them.

Colin explained that when the young people first arrived they had to be brought in a minibus. They shuffled in looking anxious and concerned were given work to do. At the end of the day they were taken home again in the minibus. Now, however, they make their own way to work on the bus, they come in laughing and joking, they help each other with their problems and their lives have been transformed. When it came to the end of term, the young people asked if they could still come in to work because they enjoyed it so much. The Remploy manager agreed. The parents have also told them what a difference it has made to their lives. All this is now under threat. If Remploy closes the next group of young people will have nowhere to go.

So what next? Colin Grey said the workers had been planning a campaign. They have a petition that they want people to sign and they want to raise awareness of the issue. They are also planning to set up a facebook group. However, they do not want to peak too soon. They want it to be a slow-burning campaign that builds up to a climax around 17 October when the government will be looking to make a decision.

At the last meeting of Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance on Tuesday night the group agreed unanimously to support the campaign. They passed the following statement of support:

"Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance abhors the proposed closure of Remploy which is an essential facility within our community to support vulnerable people. We support the employees of Remploy in any action they take against this proposal."

Then at the meeting of Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance on Wednesday (last night) the group also agreed unanimous support. They passed the following statement:

"Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance deplores the recommendations of the Sayce report that could lead to the closure of the Remploy factory in Penzance and others throughout the country. We unequivocally support the workers in the factory in their determination to retain their jobs and this valuable service. We pledge to offer whatever support we can provide to help them in their struggle."

Cornwall Disabled People Against Cuts have also been asked to draft a statement.

There is an important principle here which is that the campaign must be led by the Remploy workers themselves. It would be patronising for non-disabled people in an anti-cuts group to assume to tell the Remploy workers how they should run their campaign. Nevertheless, it is clear that when the campaign gets up and running there is already a great deal of support the Remploy workers can tap into.

Watch this space for an update on this campaign.

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