40 Disabled Workers Face Losing Their Jobs

BOSSES have vowed to try to find alternative employment for dozens of disabled workers who face losing their jobs under plans to shut a factory.

A total of 47 full-time posts, of which 40 are filled by people with disabilities, are at risk at Stoke Workshops, the latest victim of the recession.

The Fenton-based factory, which is owned by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, produces plastic-coated wire racking for the retail industry, and provides employment for adults with a physical, sensory or learning disability.

But the number of orders being taken at the factory has plummeted in recent months and the council is now considering closing it.

The factory is predicted to lose £408,000 of public money this financial year.

A draft independent report by business recovery experts commissioned by the council recommends that the workforce should be reduced immediately while considering if any of the business might be saved.

Councillor Jean Bowers, portfolio holder for adult social care, health and communities, said: “Our factory is another victim of the recession; it is distressing when this happens and particularly so for disabled people.

“The workers are city council employees and managers have been instructed to work with them to identify alternative jobs.”

A three-month consultation with employees is now looking at ways of finding alternative jobs within the council or providing individual support to identify skills and options to re-train.

Depending on the results of the consultation, the factory could shut at the end of March.

One of those affected by the proposed closure is Sandra Currie’s 27-year-old autistic son, who has worked at the factory for five years.

Sandra, aged 51, who lives in Meir Park, is worried her son, whom she did not want to name, will struggle to find another job.

She said: “The job has been a lifeline for him in that it has given him independence.

“He has built up his savings, can buy what he wants and it gives him social interaction.

“He enjoys getting up for work and the financial rewards it brings.

“But in the current economical climate, what chance has he got of securing assisted employment?”

A confidential consultation document sent to Stoke Workshops staff states that the number of orders being taken from mid-July had fallen by more than half.

It adds there is “little likelihood” of the situation improving.

Stoke Workshops, which is run in partnership with Staffordshire County Council, was originally established in the 1930s as a factory for blind people.

The job losses have been criticised by Community Union, which represents the blind and disabled workers.

Community Union regional director Rob Edwards said: “This is an outrageous act that targets some of the most vulnerable workers in our society. Putting these people out of work will put our members on the scrapheap.

“The decision to consult with staff after announcing their redundancies is an insult that treats these workers like children.

“The council has blamed the recession without acknowledging that their cruel handling of this closure will cause unnecessary hardship.

“The Community Union will be seeking to hold urgent talks with the council about this.”