In a cowardly move last week Maria Miller, Minister for Disabled People issued a written statement on the future of Remploy factories. The Minister was later forced to account in person for this decision as shock waves reverberated across the Remploy workforce.
The coalition is proposing the closure of 36 of Remploy’s 54 factories resulting in 1,752 redundancies, among them 1,518 disabled workers.
These 36 factories - regarded as “not viable” - will lose their government subsidy at the end of March. This guillotine makes a mockery of any pretence of consultation.
In 2007 Chris Grayling MP promised on behalf of the Tory opposition that a conservative government would work to beef up procurement, thus safeguarding Remploy’s future.
Instead, shrouded in the jargon of Westminster, the remaining 18 “potentially viable” factories will be turned over to an “employee led or open market exit”. In plain English the commercial risk will transfer to employees or the factories will be sold off to the private sector.
Yet another example of coalition doctrine, ‘shrink the state', and a mania for privatisation.
Remploy was established in 1945. The first factory opened in Brigend, Wales in 1946. Veterans of World War II benefited from what was termed ‘sheltered’ employment and since then Remploy has employed disabled people from all walks of life.
The coalition commissioned the boss of ‘Disability Rights’ to look into the continuation of Remploy’s ‘sheltered employment’ model and the subsequent ‘Sayce Review’ is the platform for justifying closures.
The debate between the continuation of sheltered employment versus disabled people’s employment in the mainstream is a false one - there should be space and funding for both.
In 2003 my union (then Amicus) won a funding bid from the EU. We established the ‘Disability Champions’ Project, which today is supported by the TUC.
The idea came from the union’s Disability and Employment Rights National Advisory Committee (DERNAC). As the project unfolded DERNAC looked in detail at the Two Tick ‘Positive About Employing Disabled People’.
DERNAC soon came to realise that actions did not match the pledges set out below and Disability Champions across the UK have worked to persuade employers to properly deliver action to match the pledge. It has proven an uphill struggle and even more challenging at a time of rising unemployment.
In my capacity as a union official I have represented disabled people worn out by employer failures. In some instances employers demonstrated ignorance of their duties although I also came across some cases out blatant discrimination.
I learned from the members I represented the importance to them of having a job, not just as a financial necessity but also because it gave them a sense of purpose.
So while widening job opportunities for disabled people and retaining others who become disabled is vital, sacking Remploy workers is wrong.
This cost-driven decision is literally a false economy and will ruin lives. It is my belief that Remploy workers and their unions will mount a compelling and winnable fight back.
In the meantime take a look at the actions set out in the Two Ticks – ‘Positive About Disabled People’ pledge and ask yourself if your employer comes up to scratch:
- to interview all disabled applicants who meet the minimum criteria for a job vacancy and to consider them on their abilities
- to discuss with disabled employees, at any time but at least once a year, what both parties can do to make sure disabled employees can develop and use their abilities
- to make every effort when employees become disabled to make sure they stay in employment
- to take action to ensure that all employees develop the appropriate level of disability awareness needed to make these commitments work
- to review these commitments each year and assess what has been achieved, plan ways to improve on them and let employees and Jobcentre Plus know about progress and future plans