The announcement that 2,800 disabled Remploy workers are to be offered voluntary redundancy could be “the beginning of the end” for its sheltered factories, according to unions.
Remploy’s disabled staff were said to be in shock this week after the company said the offer would be made in a bid to cut mounting losses in its factory businesses.
Unions reacted furiously to the announcement by the government-funded company and promised to fight any job losses at the remaining 54 sheltered factories.
Steve Sargent, a member of the GMB union and deputy national convenor for the Remploy trade union consortium, said he believed the company’s long-term strategy was to close all of the factories.
He said: “Personally I think it is the beginning of the end. So far our members are in shock. People are very concerned about their jobs.”
Sargent said his members were concerned that if significant numbers of staff accepted voluntary redundancy, it could lead to factories closing.
He said members were worried about the economic environment they would face if they lost their jobs, with government cuts to disability benefits and high and rising unemployment.
Remploy insisted it had no plans to close any of its factories, but said that half of the staff in many of them were being paid to do nothing, because of the lack of orders caused by the economic downturn.
The company said it could only decide how many redundancies there would be after consulting with staff and unions.
Last October, the Cabinet Office failed to reach a decision on whether Remploy would be scrapped as part of its review of quangos, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed this week that that position had not changed.
Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, is conducting a review of the employment support the government provides for disabled people, including those services run by Remploy.
When asked whether its long-term plan was to close all its sheltered factories, a Remploy spokesman said: “I wouldn’t say that.”
But he said the Sayce report would “play an important role” in deciding Remploy’s future, and added: “It will be important, but let us not pre-empt it.”
A DWP spokeswoman said the review would “inform how the government moves forward in this area”, and added: “I think everyone would agree that moving into mainstream employment would be the best option. These factories were set up in the 1940s. They are outdated.”
The government has pledged £111 million-a-year funding for Remploy until 2012-13.
Three years ago, the Labour government closed 29 Remploy factories as part of a modernisation programme.
GMB claims 90 per cent of the 2,000 disabled workers who took voluntary redundancy then are now out of work, a figure Remploy disputes.
The union has blamed “incompetent and overpaid management” for the factories’ lack of work.
Remploy said its managers had done “everything they can to try and win new business in a very tough economic climate”.
Remploy said that anyone choosing voluntary redundancy would be offered help from its employment service, which this year is due to support 16,000 people into mainstream jobs.