There are two fundamental reasons why Remploy workers are striking today, and they are inextricably linked.
First, we do not accept that Remploy factories must be closed or privatised, especially when we are in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the depression of the thirties. We reject the arguments used by the government and certain charities who say the money saved can be used to increase initiatives such as Access to Work, helping disabled people into so-called mainstream employment. Access to Work does not in itself provide any job opportunities; it provides support when employment has been secured. We believe that the reason for closing/privatising Remploy is based purely on saving money to pay for the financial crisis, while ostensibly using the well-worn ideology that Remploy factories do not provide meaningful work and are old-fashioned.
The second reason, which is just as important, is that the company and the government want to close down Remploy on the cheap. The redundancy package on the table is far less than the redundancy package that was offered in the two previous voluntary redundancy packages of 2008 and 2011. We will not only be losing our jobs, but we will also be consigned to living in poverty, with a loss of dignity, potential ill health and, for some of us, even an early grave.
The consultation process has been a sham, with company representatives treating the trade unions and their members with nothing less than contempt. At the last meeting between the trade unions and the company on 26 June, assurances were given that the collective consultation process was still on going.
A few weeks later we learned via email that the collective consultation process was over. The company representatives lacked the moral fibre to tell us face to face.
This treatment highlights a callous indifference to the added stress imposed on loyal Remploy workers, some of whom have notched up three or four decades of service to the company. It is nothing short of despicable – made even worse when you consider that company directors should be aware of the effect their actions will have on people with special needs. To add extra fuel to the anger of the workers, we have learned today that provisional closing dates for factories have been set, again with absolutely no communication with the trade unions. Some will close as early as 18 August.
The people who work on the 27 sites that are either in the second phase of consultation or are being potentially bought, feel in a more vulnerable position than we do in factories that are ear-marked for closure. They have a quite justifiable fear that they will be transferred to the new employer without any choice in the matter and further down the line could face redundancy without even the pittance that is being offered now.
Remploy workers feel they have no other option but to take industrial action. The fight against closure and privatisation will be prosecuted with every ounce of determination from workers. This battle is not only for ourselves but for the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of working-class disabled people out there who would give their eye teeth for the opportunities we have had to work for an organisation that understands our needs and requirements as disabled people – or used to, that is.
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