Remploy Norwich closure would ‘leave disabled workers on the scrapheap’

Workers at a Norwich factory took to the picket line yesterday with the warning that its closure would leave disabled employees 'on the scrapheap'.

Remploy in Norwich employs 26 disabled people in its workforce of 39, but faces an uncertain future amid government cuts.

Of the 54 factories across the country, 27 are to close and a further nine have received bids from potential buyers, although the packaging factory in Norwich was given a stay of execution in March.

However, unions fear it will be under threat as part of 'Phase Two' as the government re-routes funding from subsidised employment into other ways to get disabled people into work.

Ian Carr, shop steward for the Unite union, who organised the strike with the GMB, called the prospect 'appalling'.

He said: 'Most of these people won't find jobs elsewhere. This is meaningful work, where they are working on multi-million-pound machinery and making a contribution to society.

'The idea that these factories are institutionalising people is wrong: they give a purpose to disabled people.'

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Mr Carr said unions were concerned about the transfer of employees' terms and conditions if the Norwich factory, in Paddock Street, off Heigham Street, were to be sold to a private bidder.

Mr Carr added: 'We know most of these employees will never again work somewhere like this. They will be pushing trolleys or handing out leaflets in a supermarket. That's not meaningful work.'

The Department for Work and Pensions, which has responsibility for Remploy funding, is following a recommendation made by an independent review last June which said that money should be spend supporting individuals rather than subsidising employment.

A spokesman said: 'The Norwich factory has been identified as being potentially viable so in stage two we will work with the Remploy board to see how this can be achieved.'

Warren Kenny, senior organiser for the GMB, said the plans to redirect funding would be a false economy, as disabled employees would struggle to find new jobs.

'Ultimately they end up costing the taxpayer a lot more in benefits than if they'd been kept in employment,' he said.

'This is not just giving people jobs. These people go out the door in the morning with a sense of pride, feeling they are making a contribution to society.'

Harvey Cann, shop steward for the GMB, has learning difficulties and has worked at the factory for 22 years, having joined at 18.

He said he holds little hope for his future if his job came under threat through the sale or closure of the Norwich factory.

'Most employers won't touch us with a barge pole – they can't see past the disability. They don't see the skills we have.

'When it comes to jobs, the disabled person won't get a look-in.'

He said disabled people would be 'easy prey' for managers to let go if factories were sold off in future.

'People with disabilities are severely penalised and even bullied.

'It's simple – there won't be a future for us. We will be left on the scrapheap.'

Norwich South MP Simon Wright offered his support for the Norwich factory as one of the more successful in the country, including it potentially being 'free from the control and restrictions of government' in the future.

'I hope that a business plan can be worked up that will allow it to continue with its work, and there's a chance the Norwich factory could pull something together.'

However, the continued employment for disabled workers would have to be part of any such deal, he said.

'Having spoken to many of the employees, I know that many of them value the work they do and what they are achieving at the factory,' added Mr Wright.