Union vows to fight ‘unnecessary’ axe of Edinburgh Blindcraft

Staff at Craigmillar’s Blindcraft factory were told this morning that a council report has recommended its closure.

In a 14-page document, Edinburgh’s health and social care director Peter Gabbitas outlined various options for keeping the factory open to save money, including a three-day week. The bed-making factory currently employs 57 staff, most of whom have visual impairments.

But Gabbitas said shutting it down was the only option that would meet the “required” saving of £700,000.

Councillors will be asked to vote for or against closure at Thursday’s full council meeting. Protesters are planning a demonstration outside the city chambers to lobby councillors as they go in. It is also expected that the signatures on a petition led by Hannah Lister, 21, will be presented to council leader Jenny Dawe on Tuesday.

Community, the trade union that represents the majority of the disabled workforce at Blindcraft, says that there are viable alternative business plans available and has vowed to fight the closure.

Joe Mann, the union’s deputy general secretary, said:

    “The council’s proposal to close this superb facility will send shockwaves through the disabled community in Edinburgh. If this unnecessary decision goes ahead dozens of severely disabled people will be thrown into unemployment and onto the scrapheap.

    “Community Union is putting forward alternatives which would enable this haven of good employment opportunities for disabled people to continue as an asset to the city at a much reduced cost.

    “We cannot accept closure and call on the people of Edinburgh and Edinburgh councillors to support our members in their efforts to defend their rights and livelihoods.”

The Save Blindcraft campaign urged locals to show their support for supported employment by joining their protest on Thursday.

Hannah Lister, who started the campaign, said:

    “I am really saddened to hear that Blindcraft will be closed. This will be devastating for the people who work there and their families. The council has let Blindcraft down and the meeting with Jim Mather was clearly tokenism and nothing else.

    “The unions have suggested a three day working week which could have produced the savings needed and give time to find a long term solution but this has been pushed aside. We won’t go down without a fight. We are presenting our petition to councillor Jenny Dawe on Tuesday and we will protest outside the city chambers on Thursday. I would urge anyone who cares about Blindcraft to join us at 9:30am on Thursday.”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray attacked the council’s recommendation to close Blindcraft. He said supporters of the factory should have been allowed into a meeting held on Tuesday between the council and Scotland’s enterprise minister Jim Mather.

He said:

    “It is an outrageous decision by the SNP-Liberal administration in their failure to protect the jobs at Blindcraft where half of the workers are disabled people.

    “Alex Salmond intervened to save a similar workshop in Aberdeen but when it does not suit SNP politics he and Jim Mather wash their hands of it.

    “Jim Mather’s decision to not to invite campaigners to the summit to save the factory such as workers, councillors and MSPs is a disgrace.

    “I have called on the Scottish government time and again to ensure that article 19 of the European directive asking all public service to tender contracts to at least one sheltered workshop is fully implemented.

    “The SNP and Lib Dems on the council, along with the Scottish government, have failed disabled workers in Edinburgh.

    “In Glasgow the Labour council has stood four-square behind disabled workers supporting City Building which is a notable success.

    “Meanwhile the unions have called for a three-day week to save Blindcraft, which the council’s own report suggests would save as much money as the council’s plans to close it down. At the very least the council should take up the union’s suggestions of a three-day week until a long-term solution is worked out.”

Following the meeting on Tuesday, the council said it was prioritising its “duty of care to staff.”

A council spokesperson said:

    “Many options have been discussed with union representatives and staff as to how we help the factory operate on a firmer financial footing whilst achieving the necessary £700,000 savings.

    “Although no concrete decisions were reached today some of the issues raised will be included in the Blindcraft report which will be discussed at full council next week where a decision will be made as to the factory’s future.

    “One of our main priorities is the duty of care to our staff which is why we have set up a special team involving Human Resources, Supported Employment, Benefits Advice and Social Work to help support them through this period of uncertainty.”