Disabled to lose their factories

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S DISABLED workers will suffer a further blow this week with confirmation of the closure of factories specially set up to employ them.

The announcement of the job losses comes just days after the Government made it clear there would be no back-down on its plans to tighten up on eligibility for disability benefit.

Remploy, the company set up to provide work for disabled veterans after the Second World War, is to close seven factories with the loss of up to 1,500 specialist jobs - a day after Remembrance Sunday.

Plans to cut the workforce were drawn up earlier this year but, following a massive backlash from disability rights groups and trade unions, the Government, in conjunction with Remploy, announced a moratorium on closures.

But a leaked document, due to be released by Remploy tomorrow, makes clear their U-turn. And the timing of the announcement has enraged opponents to job losses.

GMB national official Phil Davies said last night: "This is a staggering betrayal of thousands of disabled workers and of the memory of the brave men and women in whose name the `factories fit for heroes' were first built. For Remploy to break a clear pledge is bad enough but to time the announcement for the day after Remembrance Sunday defies belief."

According to the Remploy statement, to be made by chief executive Tony Withey, the company directors intended to visit each of their 87 factories to explain the changes to staff.

Mr Withey will make it clear that he believes the company needs to "upgrade our enterprises in the same way as any commercial organisation".

"However," the statement continues, "[the company] has to be allowed to pursue its `tandem' strategy - employing severely disabled people in specially adapted Remploy factories and training other disabled people for jobs in mainstream industry and finding them secure employment places."

But the statement complains that a pounds 94m grant which made up for the lower productivity of Remploy's 10,000 disabled employees had been frozen for five years - an effective 10 per cent reduction in their budget. This meant, the statement said, that "in the long term fewer can be employed under this scheme".

In response, the company plans to increase the number of disabled workers going into mainstream jobs from 4,150 now to 5,258 in 2002. At the same time the number of severely disabled people in Remploy factories will be cut by 913 from 6,566 to 5,653.

It also warns of "disruption and anxiety of change" for a further 500 factory-based employees while insisting there would be no compulsory redundancies. The GMB said the company had already admitted it was "difficult to envisage major reductions" through natural wastage.

And it said the company had reneged on pledges made since the original closures row. The GMB added that despite meeting Remploy management three times in the past nine days, there had been no indication of the announcement of the closure programme.