Remploy staff stage Cardiff protest over Wales closures

Remploy staff have taken part in a rally in Cardiff protesting against plans to close factories

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Remploy staff from across Wales have taken part in a rally in Cardiff protesting against plans to close factories employing disabled people.

Unions say up to 1,700 workers could lose their jobs if 36 of 54 factories shut, including seven of nine in Wales.

Sites at Swansea, Aberdare, Merthyr, Bridgend, Croespenmaen, Abertillery and Wrexham, and 281 jobs, are at risk.

The UK government says "non-viable" factories should shut and investment go into other schemes.

Start Quote

Unite and the GMB deplore the actions of the UK government... in contrast we welcome the Welsh government's support and are committed to working with them where we can to find a solution ”

End Quote Andy Richards Unite

Unions say up to 1,700 workers could lose their jobs if the closures go ahead.

Mike Ahearn, a workplace representative at the Bridgend Remploy factory for the Unite union, who has worked for the company for 14 years, said about 200 people were at the rally.

"We're not accepting anything we're fighting to the very end to keep jobs," he said on BBC Radio Wales.

"They are looking at the wrong end of the scale and should be looking at the Remploy structure to find savings rather than in the factories," he added.

The Unite union has said the number of closures planned by the UK government in Wales is "disproportionate".

CASE STUDY

Former miner Alex Morgan, 44, Newcastle Emlyn, says: "I've been employed by Remploy since 2001 and have worked my way up to being a team leader on the production line.

"The company has been good with training and I've been to Nottingham University on two-day courses to learn to be a team leader.

"Before I started here I used to work underground and was injured. I was crushed and broke my pelvis in several places.

"I was lucky to be operated on at Carmarthen but spent two years in a wheelchair. I now walk with the aid of a stick because I still have a weakness in my leg and pins in my back and front.

"At Remploy they call it 'supported disabled employee' and you do a normal job but the support you get is that they carry out adaptations, or provide special chairs etc. I fear that prospective employers won't see past the disability.

"Maybe they will think that we'll be 'passengers' but we are doing a real job here with quality products. I'm concerned too about the level of support which will be available to us, because that hasn't been made clear."

Its members, along with those in the GMB union, met at Cardiff City Hall at midday, before marching through through Queen Street and back to City Hall for a rally.

Unite Wales secretary Andy Richards said: "Unite and the GMB deplore the actions of the UK government on Remploy which see them once again hitting the most vulnerable workers hardest.

"In contrast we welcome the Welsh government's support and are committed to working with them where we can to find a solution that ensures a fairer future for Remploy."

Remploy workers are employed in enterprises that vary from furniture and packaging manufacturing to recycling electrical appliances and operating CCTV systems and control rooms.

£8m fund

An £8m fund is being set up to help those affected find alternative employment.

A report by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, into the way the government spends its disability employment budget recommended government funding should focus on support for individuals, rather than subsidising factory businesses.

Her report recommended that the money should be diverted into the Access to Work fund, which provides technology and other help to firms for the disabled, whose average spend per person is £2,900.

The Department for Work and Pensions had said that about a fifth of that budget was currently spent on Remploy factories, but added that almost all of the factories were loss-making and last year lost £68.3m.

There have already been protests across Britain, including outside Parliament.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said the Welsh government would leave "no stone unturned" in its efforts to protect jobs.

He said ministers have been holding talks with different groups to consider ways to take over Welsh Remploy factories.

Mr Andrews said he will be seeking meetings with trade unions to discuss options within the next 10 days.

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