|We are told in the Glamorgan Gazette this week that the Remploy factory gates will close for a final time on 28th March.
Not many people realise that the Bridgend factory was actually the very first to become operational, way back in 1946, when times were much, much harder than they they are now, in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Since 1946, the state-owned company Remploy has been the UKs leading specialist employer of disabled people, with some 3,000 people on its payroll until recently.
Despite pleas from unions, workers and their families, Remploy executives say they have no alternative but to press ahead with the closures and sell offs, arguing that their hand has been forced by cuts in government funding. The company is making a loss of more than £50million per year, although union officials say this could be reduced to £7million by streamlining the management and other measures. A local Remploy worker argues that: Remploy is top heavy with non-disabled directors and senior managers who make no contribution to the Remploy factory network. About 80 per cent of senior management are able bodied . . . And they have bled the company dry. Indeed, while the vast majority of the factory floor (disabled) workers have been earning £13k, senior management (non-disabled) have been on £150k+. Bear mind that Green Party policy would have it that the maximum wage in any organisation would be no more than ten times the minimum wage in any organisation.
Those made redundant when the factories close will find it extremely difficult to find another job. They are at the back of a very long queue of 2.67 million unemployed people. And it wouldn’t be the first time the Government’s numbers didn’t add up too. A year claiming ESA amounts to £5k, which is still cheaper than the cost of supported employment for a year. But what about a lifetime of unemployment, and the costs to health services associated with the mental and physical effects of long term unemployment? We must then add the cost of decommissioning the factories, and paying redundancy pay to the employees and securing their pensions (assuming, perhaps naively, that the Government will honour these standard employment rights). The closure will probably be a false economy, making 1700 people redundant when millions are being spent on welfare benefits and welfare to work support.
In any case, and as we know, a decent society based on social justice is not just about the bottom line, the basis of decisions made by capitalists. Tories are incapable of understanding the value of dignity, self-respect and inclusivity. If it can’t turn a profit, can’t produce surplus value for them to feed their greed, they are not interested.
Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: This is a heartless decision by a government that has shown very little interest in protecting the livelihoods of severely-disabled people who need support in and out of work.
Phil Davies, of the GMB union, said: This is devastating news but not untypical from this uncaring government who cannot be relied on to protect the vulnerable.”
Glen Holdom, GMB officer for Remploy staff, says of the plans that taking jobs from disabled people should not be tolerated in a civilised society. It will not improve the countrys financial situation it may well make it worse.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, has denounced the action as barbaric . . . The government has sunk to a new low.
So what is the PR spin on this particular example of government callousness? Last year Liz Sayce, then chief executive of Radar, the Royal Association for Disability Rights (now Disability Rights UK), controversially called Remploy factories ghettoes operating a glass ceiling with non-disabled people largely running the organisation and disabled people working in it. Sayce has gone on to produce a government-commissioned report, in the name of Radar, which is now being used to justify the closures. The work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was quoted as saying the state should not fund Victorian-era segregated employment. The Department for Work and Pensions added that: For many, Remploy factories can lead to institutionalisation and isolation of disabled people.
This is not the way the Bridgend work force see it (as reported in the Gazette). It is a black day for Bridgend, according to employee of 14 years Mike Ahearn, who was made redundant in January. Over the years, the factory has looked after countless disabled people and not only looked after them but provided meaningful employment he said. Helen Doyle, who will work her last day on March 28, said: It is the end of an era. It is sad, not only for the people working here now but for future generations of disabled people. There will be nothing for them once Remploy has gone.
Green Party policy states: The Green Party recognises that the majority of disabled people live in poverty and will work towards ensuring that this is addressed through its income policies and by ensuring effective equality of opportunity in education, training and employment (DY500). I am here to tell you that this would most surely mean not just a reversal of these callous decisions, but an extension of employment opportunities such that all who want to work for their living (at a living wage, rather than the inadequate minimum wage) will have the opportunity to do so – just like the rest of society.
It is increasingly clear that only the Green Party recognises that fair is worth fighting for.