Remploy worker carries Olympic torch ahead of strike action opposing factory closures

 

Today Tony Collins, an athlete who has represented his country around the world, proudly carried the Olympic torch through Rayleigh in Essex.

But in three weeks’ time, on the eve of the Games’ opening ceremony, Mr Collins, will not be celebrating. He will be on strike in protest against Government plans to close 54 specialist factories, making him and hundreds of other disabled people redundant.

The Government set out its intention to close or sell off all of the country’s Remploy factories in March. The factories are subsidised specialist employers of disabled people and provide 1,700 jobs.

Four months since the Government decision, Remploy workers all over the country fear that redundancy, at a time when 2.61 million people are out of work, will mean never working again. This week Remploy workers voted overwhelmingly to go on strike on two dates this month, the second falling on 26 July, the day before the Olympics begin.

Mr Collins, 34, a member of the Great Britain Learning Disabled Athletics Squad, works at the Remploy factory in Barking, recycling computers for resale. He told The Independent that he was “angry and upset” to at the threat to his livelihood and pledged to join his striking colleagues later this month.

The Department for Work and Pensions has condemned the strike. In May, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, was labelled a “bully” by Remploy workers after criticising staff at the factories for “not doing any work…just making cups of coffee.”

Mr Collins’ mother Kathy, said that her son and many of his colleagues feared discrimination from potential employers and co-workers if they were forced to enter the mainstream job market.

“Tony is ready and keen to work,” she said. “In 13 years at Remploy he has never once been late, getting up at 5.00am to make it on time. But he is petrified of working in mainstream employment.”

The Government has ring-fenced the £320 million disability employment budget but believes that money spent subsidising Remploy employees would be more effectively spent supporting disabled people into mainstream employment.

“It costs £25,000 per year to support each disabled person working in a Remploy factory,” a DWP spokesman said. “At the same time the average Access to Work award to support a disabled person in a mainstream employment is only £2,900.”

The Government argues that the Remploy factories provide “segregated employment” and the decision to close the factories followed advice from the charity Disability Rights UK.

However, Ms Collins said that the Government was taking choice away from disabled people.

“The Government says that these people have the right to work in mainstream employment. Of course they do, but they also have the right to choose whether they want to work in mainstream or sheltered employment,” she said.  “Remploy is not just a workplace for my son, it is like a refuge. What the Government are doing is appalling. It is a form of bullying.”

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