DISABLED workers in Huddersfield joined a nationwide strike over plans to axe Remploy factories across the country.
About a dozen members of the GMB general union downed tools to picket the Remploy factory at Waterloo yesterday – although a number of their fellow union members were working as normal.
And Remploy claimed “significant” numbers of workers turned up for work as normal at other factories.
Yesterday’s stoppage followed votes for strike action by GMB and Unite members at the 54 state-subsidised Remploy sites across the country. Another 24-hour stoppage will take place on Friday next week.
The action follows the Government’s decision to close 36 Remploy factories in a bid to save funds and direct more disabled people into mainstream employment.
The strikers carried placards criticising Maria Miller, minister for disabled people.
Ministers have scheduled 27 of 36 factories for closure next month with the rest closing by this December.
The Remploy factory at Tandem Industrial Estate, Waterloo, which employs more than 30 people making car interior trim for manufacturers including Toyota and Vauxhall, is among several other sites subject to further consultation as “potentially viable”.
Paul Wheelhouse, GMB member and warehouse team leader at the Waterloo factory, said: “We are fighting to save our jobs because this Government wants to close or sell the factories.
“If the factory closes, we will be made compulsorily redundant and in the current climate of high unemployment it is going to be more difficult for people with disabilities or long-term health issues to get another job.”
Mr Wheelhouse said: “All 54 factories are under threat. Everyone here is concerned for their future and want to work. We are contributing to the economy and shutting the factories will not employ one more disabled person.”
Commenting on the fact that half of GMB members at the Waterloo site had opted to work rather than strike, he said: “It is difficult for some individuals to lose a day’s pay when you are a low-paid worker and you depend on that wage to live.”
But he added: “We have had members of the public turn up and join us on the picket line and show their support.”
Phil Davies, GMB national secretary said: “Disabled people in Remploy have not taken lightly the decision to withdraw their labour.
“These are workers who do not have large amounts of savings, so for them to sacrifice a day’s pay shows the passion with which they have trying to save their jobs.
“The Government is running around like a headless chicken trying to introduce separate schemes of employment support when everybody knows that the economy is in recession and sustainable employment is not available.
“This decision to force the closure of Remploy means that thousands of disabled people and their families will be put into poverty and their health is bound to suffer.”
Remploy said that 21 of its 54 factories, including Huddersfield, continued to operate during the 24-hour strike.
At 10 sites all employees reported for work and at a further 14 sites at least 50% of employees went to work as usual.
Remploy claimed union activists had padlocked the gates at the Sheffield and Chesterfield factories while locks were glued at other sites to prevent employees going to work.
And it said Sheffield employees going in to work were photographed and told that their pictures would be posted on the internet.
A Remploy spokesman said: “Significant numbers of employees have turned up to work as normal today and the company thanks them for their commitment. We deplore attempts to intimidate employees who want to work.”
He added: “Strike action will do nothing to secure the future jobs of Remploy staff.”