The threatened closure of 54 Remploy factories shows the government is “intent on destroying the social welfare gains made after World War Two.” That’s the view of Brian Anderson, the Unite workplace rep at Wythenshawe print works, Manchester.
Like his 21 colleagues, part of a national workforce of 2,800, he is waiting anxiously to hear Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, announce the result of the Department of Work and Pensions consultation on the Sayce Report that recommended closing all of Remploy’s factories.
It would be a sad end for the government owned company established under the 1944 Disabled Persons [Employment] Act, with the first factory opening two years later in Bridgend, South Wales. At Remploy thousands of disabled people have benefited materially and mentally from having a proper job with the company.
After 23 years as an employee Brian, partially sighted in one eye, has witnessed this for himself saying, “employment here gives people pride and status. Some people only go out to come to work. I fear 90% will never work again if the factory shuts. Rather than contributing to the economy they will be an additional expense. I believe we have a future if the government were prepared to use procurement rules to place orders with us.”
Brian supports the Access to Work Fund that financially supports employers who hire individual disabled people. He’s not convinced however by government claims, used to support shutting Remploy down, that the average cost of helping 37,300 disabled people find work under it in 2009-10 was just £2,600. His letter asking the DWP to clarify matters however currently remains unanswered and he suspects the figures “are mainly composed of part time workers and volunteers.”
With Miller having said – even before the consultation period had ended - she was “attracted” to the Sayce Report conclusions Brian, a life-long union member has fully supported the Unite and GMB campaign to defend all the factories. This included participating with colleagues in the massive Manchester march in October to the Tory Party conference at the end of which he heard UNITE general secretary Len McCluskey praise their efforts and say, "They are fighting for their dignity and against an unscrupulous government.”
In 2007-08 the two unions forced the Labour Government to climb down from plans to close 43 factories. Eighteen were rescued including Wythenshawe. The fight to save the remaining 54 continues.