The Remploy Open Meeting in Unite House last night was a great success; with around 55 Comrades in attendance. The Top table boasted a list of big hitters from the Remploy Consortium and the trade union movement, namely Julie Haynes, Mark Holloway, Kevin Hepworth, Len McCluskey, and Paul Kenny.
Julie and Mark co-chaired the meeting, opening with a brief explanation of the Sayce Report the conclusions of which call for an ending of government subsidy to Remploy factories; which in effect would force the closure of the remaining 54 sites.
Paul Kenny spoke, and sketched a damning picture of incompetence by the Remploy Board of almost criminal intent. Here is a national company that has the business nous of a fly pitcher, indeed a fly pitcher would have more business savvy - after all, he has to look after his own interests.
National companies of Remploy's size would have some sort of energy deal with a national supplier, thus reducing costs over their numerous factory and branch sites; not Remploy. They'd be signed up to an economical mobile phone contract for all management personnel; again, they seem to sign up to the most inefficient deals they can find. The same with buying materials in bulk; they eschew doing this. It's almost as the whole concept of the economies of scale has passed this bunch by.
The same applies with marketing their product. When a senior trade union official asked the Remploy Furniture Division for a couple of hundred of their furniture catalogues he was told the company only has 50 printed at any one time - seems there's no call for such marketing tools!
Some years ago, Michael Eavis, he of Glastonbury fame, offered Remploy a contract for making T-shirts, a deal worth £1 million. Instead of grasping the deal with both hands, Remploy complained that it would cost them £50,000 to 'tool-up' for the operation. It was left to a trade unionist to explain to the capitalist that sometimes you must speculate to accumulate!
A cynic would be forgiven for wondering if the company actually gives a toss. It's almost as they're operating a scorched earth policy!
Paul Kenny then went on to talk about the shameful way Remploy Employment Services massaged their figures. Remploy claims it has helped 20,000 disabled people into sustainable employment during the 2010-11 period. Sadly, this is untrue. What Remploy actually did was to 'secure' 20,000 job placements in this period. However, by double and, in some cases triple, counting people all Remploy really did was to introduce a few thousand individuals to the world of 'revolving door' employment.
It would be interesting if Remploy Employment Services' books were laid open to forensic scrutiny the number of individual people they really placed into sustainable employment. Add to this the way in which the cost of employing a factory worker is calculated by Remploy; which is dividing the number of factory workers by the government subsidy!
Thus, a figure of £25,000 is used as the cost to subsidise each Remploy factory worker. This inventive accounting totally disregards the Employment Services side of Remploy that takes its share of the subsidy to pay for a top-heavy management structure, administration, their high street branches and staffing.
When you factor in these costs, the subsidy reduces by some £8,000 - £10,000 per capita. Now we're looking at £15,000 to £17,000 subsidy. Still too much many will argue; however, if the company fully exploited public contracts it could further reduce these figures.
Remploy's shortcomings were not a secret. The Consortium of Unions had exposed them in the past; but, the mainly right-wing media wasn't going to allow truth get the way of lazy reporting. Following their line, Sayce also chose to ignore anything put forward by the trade unions; and, as a result she came to her decision by way of a false premise.
Kenny finished off by declaring that disabled people were entitled to work; that Remploy factories offered employment opportunities in a safe and organised environment to a group of people who would otherwise be marginalised by employers, and thus by society as a whole.
Kevin Hepworth, an FTO who heads the Unite contingent of the Remploy Consortium, echoed much of what Kenny had to say. The problem was that Paul had given such a comprehensive presentation anyone following him would always struggle to add to the story.
Similarly, Len McCluskey couldn't add too much to Paul Kenny's contribution. However, Len did have a long relationship with Remploy, he was Chair of the Consortium for 16-years; thus, he has a grasp of the inner workings of the company both from a business and political perspective.
A question and answer session ensued. A number of ex-Remploy workers expressed their views of the past and impending factory closures. And, it was this group's accounts of life after Remploy that drove home the callousness of the factory closures.
Neither Liz Sayce, nor her paymasters in Parliament understand, or more likely care about, the very real damage they will cause by closing down Remploy factories. The majority of the 2,800 disabled Remploy workers remaining in factory employment will not find work. 80% of those who lost their jobs 3½-years ago are currently out of work. Some of these have spent time passing through revolving-door employment; the rest have not worked since.
Back in 2008 there was far more work around. In today's depressed employment market disabled people are firmly planted at the bottom of the ladder with little or no hope of advancing upwards. Remploy, Pathways to Work, Work Choice, and all the other schemes this government has wasted hundreds of millions on have failed. A short time ago all the organisations contracted to place disabled people into meaningful and sustainable employment reported a failure to reach their agreed targets.
Even before the recession and the current economic downturn we, in the trade unions and the disability movement, told the government their targets were unachievable. As long as employers continue to discriminate against disabled people, many of us will find it impossible to gain employment. As long as the government refuses to properly fund such schemes as Access to Work, disabled people will be viewed as too expensive to employ.