SPECIAL REPORT: Remploy workers fear for future after Birkenhead factory is earmarked for closure
Wirral job losses Business leaders call for support as workers are axed at textiles plant set up for disabled staff
WORRIED disabled workers said they were fearing for their futures after Birkenhead’s Remploy factory was earmarked for closure.
All 29 staff at the site face being made redundant after the Government announced it was cutting its funding of the firm.
Remploy is proposing to close 36 of its 54 factories, with potential compulsory redundancies of 1,752 people – including 1,518 disabled employees.
Remploy factories were set up after World War Two to provide sheltered employment for disabled people and the Birkenhead site specialises in textile production.
The decision followed a Government-commissioned review by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK.
Disability minister Maria Miller MP said the review strongly endorsed the idea that money to support disabled people into employment “should follow individuals, not institutions”.
But unions expressed outrage, pointing out that the decision came just days after the passage of the Government’s welfare reforms and represented a second crushing blow to disabled people.
Staff in Birkenhead said they felt let down by the Government.
Supervisor Jeanette Williams, 48, said: “Obviously people here have got disabilities. Here it is like a home and I do not know whether any of these people, not just here but at the factories elsewhere, can cope elsewhere.”
Mrs Williams, who has epilepsy, and her partner both work at the factory and they have two children to support.
She said others also had children and mortgages to pay and faced being put out of work at a time when there were “no jobs in the area for anyone”.
One woman who has worked at the factory for 18 years said: “At first we were all in shock, then later on I felt angry.
“Even getting up this morning, I thought ‘what’s the point?’ They do not want us any more. They have brought work in for us. There has even been overtime as well.
“It is a good place to work. I have diabetes and when you need to go to hospital they understand. It is like a big family.”
Staff said they were currently working on a project to produce seat covers for a car company and they thought there was plenty of work.
Another worker who has been at the factory for 13 years said: “They told us we have a 90-day consultation and it should shut in July.
“We thought we had until next year, that was when the money from the Government was supposed to stretch out to.
“To be honest, half of them will never work again. Some have a lot of hospital appointments and one lad has a hospital stay twice a year.
“They are meant to be trying to help people get off benefits and they want us on them.
“We are working and doing a valuable job, paying our own way in society, and they are just throwing us on the scrapheap.”
In 2008, Remploy closed its Central Cutting Unit in Wallasey, with 39 staff taking voluntary redundancy and only three moving to Birkenhead.
The Government said Remploy factories lose a total £63m a year and the average taxpayer subsidy is £25,000 for each worker – compared with just £2,900 to support a disabled person in a mainstream job.
Remploy says its Birkenhead factory is not viable
REMPLOY says it believs the Birkenhead factory, like the others selected for closure, is not commercially viable.
In a statement it said: “It is proposed that Government funding for Remploy will come to an end as soon as possible so that funding can instead be used to support more disabled people into mainstream employment.
“Remploy will now consult with its trade unions and the management forums on the proposed closure in 2012 of 36 of its 54 factories and on the potential compulsory redundancy of 1,752 employees directly or indirectly involved with these businesses.
“During this consultation Remploy will consider all measures to avoid redundancies.”