Remploy workers ‘nightmare’ fight for their futures

5 Sep

Disability is high on the political agenda just now.  The London Paralympic Games has continued the feel-good spirit from last month’s Olympic Games and then some with world-class athletic displays that are inspiring the public.

The Coalition Government itself is boxed-in and wounded by the failings of its own austerity agenda and has been quick to try and capitalise on the Paralympics’ success.  It’s a good news story and politicians of all varieties want to be associated with good news stories – particularly embattled ones.

However, while David Cameron is championing the Paralympic athletes, outside the walls of the Olympic Stadium his Government may well be consigning a generation of vulnerable workers to the UK’s unemployment scrapheap.

Whatever your thoughts on the Government’s Access to Work scheme, and the Sayce Report recommendations which underpin the policy, the on-going closures of Remploy factories has exacerbated the fears and fragilities of the company’s workforce.

This week Unite members in Remploy’s Cowdenbeath and Clydebank factories are striking to defend their livelihoods.  They hold very real fears that there is no opportunity or hope for them in the prevailing conditions of our recession-mired labour market.

Unite Shop Steward Linda Menzies at Remploy in Cowdenbeath sums-up the workers predicament, “You don’t know if you are coming or going – it’s a total nightmare.”

The Cowdenbeath plant itself has 36 people in full-time employment manufacturing world-class life jackets for the Ocean Safety Company.  Unite has been at the forefront of the campaign to save these jobs but the workforce is still in limbo.  They have been earmarked for the second wave of closures and are now reliant on a white knight to purchase their plant to have any hope of retaining jobs – something that is not without its own potential pitfalls.

Linda is damning of the silence from both Government and management over the factory’s future and reveals that it’s stoking tensions among the workers.

“The UK government agenda is cut and dried; we feel they want us off the books by any means necessary.  But there is no communication whatsoever, not from the DWP and not from management.  We ask for updates and information and we’re told it’s classified or unavailable.  It’s a deplorable way to treat a loyal workforce, some of whom have given over 30 years of service.”

“A potential new owner and TUPE transfer offers little comfort either; they will have their own business plan and ideas for the future.  We fear it will become a cherry-picking exercise where only the most able survive – with no guarantees on protections of our modest terms and conditions.

“The uncertainty is distressing the workers in different ways.  Their disabilities range from hearing and physical impairments to deep learning difficulties – some people don’t comprehend what’s going to happen to them.  Questions get asked and you can’t calm their fears – some of us are getting very depressed.  At its worst it’s a form of cruelty, really.”

The fact these closures take place against a backdrop of celebration in the form of the Paralympic Games is all the more galling for the Remploy workers.

Linda added, “David Cameron has said the Paralympics demonstrates disabled people can work and live in the mainstream.  Of course they can! We didn’t need an Olympics to demonstrate this.  But where are the Government going to find each and every one of our workers alternative employment in this economic climate?

“Closures won’t put disabled workers into the mainstream; they’ll consign them to the four walls of the house and shatter the routines that underpin their everyday lives.  For many workers the plant isn’t just their livelihoods it’s also their support network.  All that will be stripped away.”

This Thursday, Unite members in Remploy Cowdenbeath and Clydebank will take 24-hour strike action to defend what’s left of their company, their livelihoods and their futures.

The Government say the Remploy closures are about accelerating mainstream employment for disabled people.    Remploy workers say it will put them on an already significant unemployment scrapheap, with their own specific personal circumstances reducing their employability further against the backdrop of cuts and economic recession.

Unite whole-heartedly supports our members fight and their right for dignity in their employment and personal lives.  They tell us that’s what Remploy gives them; they want decent employment and to be able to continue contributing towards society. They don’t want the dole queue.

The Government and it’s Ministers should listen to the people at the coal-face. If how we look after our most vulnerable is a reflection of our society, the Remploy closures – particularly in this economic climate – should shame our political class.

The last word goes to Linda, “We cannot believe the Government can’t see what will happen if they close these workplaces now.  We need a miracle and that’s what we’re fighting for.” 

Remploy PDF

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