Strike Threat Over ‘Disabled Worker’ Plans

Union leaders yesterday warned of a national strike in factories – including one in Wales – employing disabled people after a leaked document confirmed that plans have been drawn up to close a number of sites.

The GMB said it had obtained an internal briefing prepared for Anne McGuire, Minister for the Disabled, ahead of an announcement tomorrow which is expected to signal the closure of up to 30 factories run by Remploy.

The company, founded in 1945 to help disabled servicemen find jobs, runs 83 factories employing about 5,000 disabled workers. More than 500 employees work at the company’s six Welsh sites at Bridgend, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, Treforest, Porth and Croespenmaen. The company is expected to argue that it wants to place more disabled people into mainstream employment.

The document said Remploy plans to quadruple the number of disabled people supported into work and gives an undertaking there will be no compulsory redundancies when factories close.

Under the heading “Why are you throwing disabled people on the scrapheap?” the document said. “Remploy are proposing to quadruple the number of people that they support. I understand the concerns that Remploy’s proposals will cause for some factory employees. I would remind Remploy employees that I have given an undertaking that there will be no compulsory redundancies for disabled people.”

The document said Remploy will provide an “unprecedented” support package to help employees through the “transition”. It goes on to say that it is not a cost-cutting exercise adding that the government will maintain Remploy’s funding at a level of £111m a year over five years.

The document goes on, “Remploy have proposed a number of factory closures and mergers. The company feel that these proposals will give the best chance of the remaining factory network being sustainable in the future.”

Final proposals will be made later in the year. The document said disabled people wanted to work in mainstream employment doing the same jobs as non-disabled people.

“It is important that disabled employees can move to work that is suitable. Remploy’s proposals recognise and provide for this including where a sheltered environment is the best option.”

Meanwhile leaders of six disability charities wrote a letter this weekend supporting the closure plans. Mencap, Mind, Radar, Scope, Leonard Cheshire and the Royal National Institute of Deaf People said disabled people were more likely to have fulfilling lives by working in “the inclusive enviro-nment which the rest of us take for granted”.

The GMB reacted with anger to the letter and warned of an industrial dispute which could break out just as Gordon Brown takes over as Prime Minister.