Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Running Down of Remploy Factories

For reasons best known to themselves that at the upper echelons within Remploy have done little to exploit the opportunities afforded by 2006 Public Contracts Regulations (Regulation 7) -  restricting the tendering process for goods or services to supported businesses only. Supported businesses are defined as those where over 50% of employees are disabled.

Government guidance is that every public body should reserve at least one contract for supported businesses. In this way, public bodies can fulfil their social objectives in helping more disabled people into work.

The public contract regulations came in originally as an EU directive; and, the trade union side has been pressing the company to grab what should have been in effect a life-line. Except the company, for reasons unknown to us, allowed this god-send to pass them by.

While a handful of the 54 factories are running at a profit, the overwhelming majority are not. How exactly do you run at a profit when the kind of work you're the fourth or fifth sub-contractor down the line; when you've got people sitting around factories on idle-time; and, when you have a few hundred people from factories which closed down over three years ago being paid by Remploy for doing nothing - that's not a criticism of the Comrades who had their factories closed around them and decided to remain employed by Remploy on full pay and Ts&Cs.

An outsider looking at the Remploy scenario might be forgiven for wondering why the board had adopted a scorched earth policy for its own company -because, we on the trade union side have been wondering this for a number of years.

The idea that when the funding is withdrawn that at least fifty factories can somehow slough off their subsidy dependency and go it alone is risible. How insulting of Liz Sayce and this government to suggest that the Remploy workers suddenly gain the gift of entrepreneurship and run the factories as co-ops or social enterprises. These are factories denuded of contracts; in some instances factories that were forced to deskill some years ago as the company began its race for the bottom.

Co-ops and social enterprises are not the universal panacea for Remploy factories; not that is unless the government agrees to fund such schemes as they grow their order books. These kind of schemes can only work and succeed if there is work on the books.

Another suggestion by Liz Sayce is that Remploy factories could go into partnership with local businesses and local authorities. The private sector has, and is still, avoiding its duty to employ disabled people; why would it at a time when the economy is struggling take on a 'failed' Remploy factory.

Similarly, local authorities are taking funding away from their own supported employment schemes and closing them down; so, why would they then come into partnership with, and subsidise, a Remploy factory.

On the 13th May 2010 ex-Remploy workers from the York factory signed the documents under the Cooperative and Provident Societies Rules and the York Disabled Workers Cooperative Ltd was born in the GMB offices on Gillygate in York. Out of 51 people from the old Remploy York factory 5 are working in the new co-op.

Of course we support the York Co-op; and, we wish them success for the future. However, in these times of cutbacks and austerity will we be able to repeat another 54 Yorks?  Even if we did, we'd be lucky to secure jobs for 10% of the current factory workforce. What happens to the 90% who aren't successful. Does the government mean we should create 540 new businesses and introduce them into a shrinking economy; into a moribund economy already bristling with Big Society social enterprises and community projects competing for fast shrinking pots of public sector money.

We must fight to keep Remploy factories open. We ask the government to get rid of the current board of directors and put in their place people willing to make a go of Remploy. The government must ensure that Remploy 's books are filled with public contracts; that decent work is brought into the factories, work that reflects the skills of Remploy workers. Give Remploy workers good profitable work and they'll ensure that they can add value to the end product; and, given time they'll be able to reduce the subsidy.

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