Friday, September 16, 2011

For 4,000 workers, the Remploy factories are irreplaceable - the Government must genuinely listen to them

When someone proposes to make thousands of people redundant - and at the same time take away their best chance of finding work - those workers deserve an opportunity to put their own case forward.

So when Liz Sayce's report recommended in June that funding for the 54 Remploy factories across the UK should be cut, leading to their closure, the 4,000 Remploy workers were promised that there would be a full consultation before a decision was taken.

Remploy was founded after the Second World War to provide employment for disabled people, including those returning home from the battlefields. It has decades of expertise in enabling people with disabilities to work and play a full part in society. If the factories are closed, much of that expertise could be lost.

Sadly, this week I have written to Maria Miller, the UK's Minister for Disabled People, to raise my concerns that the promise of full consultation has not been fulfilled.

After the Government organised a series of "regional roadshows" to discuss the proposals, 1,000 employees formally applied to attend - but each session was ultimately limited to just 60 Remploy workers, to be selected by managers. Workers were not allowed to ask their Trade Union representatives to attend with them.

In the East Midlands, where there are Remploy sites at Chesterfield, Derby, Leicester and Worksop, not a single "roadshow" has been organised. Workers may have to travel over 80 miles to get to the nearest event.

Employees are already angry and hurt at the proposals. As a former GMB officer representing Remploy workers, I know that there is a great deal of support available for people at Remploy sites - not all of it purely work-related - which is simply not available elsewhere. When I have visited Remploy, employees have told me that for them, the factories are not just workplaces, but also the centre of their communities and social networks. It is simply not enough just to say that all these people can find 'mainstream' jobs elsewhere.

The Government must make sure it has genuinely listened to the full Remploy workforce. Not only is that the minimum they should be able to expect - but the Government must realise the full extent of what the Remploy factories do for their workers, and what a huge loss their closure would be.

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