Four-hour occupation of Remploy’s head office led to Disabilities Minister, Maria Miller agreeing to urgent talks over timetable and terms of factory closure programme

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Leading activists in the joint union campaign to resist the closure or sale of dozens of factories run by the publicly-funded agency, Remploy, say they are buoyed up by yesterday’s four-hour occupation of the company’s head office.

Unite rep Jackie Mayer, from Stoke-on-Trent, said: “Finally, somebody spoke to us.

“We’ve waited months for that and it took us sitting there for four hours to get it.”

Eight Remploy workers and union reps – some of whom lost their jobs in the first wave of closures last week – took part in the protest.

The say they were forced into taking direct action because neither Remploy directors nor ministers at the Department of Work and Pensions had agreed to meet them face-to face to discuss concerns over the closure timetable and the employment and pension rights for staff in the nine factories which are earmarked to be sold off.

Activists said the only date they had been offered was after the DWP’s deadline for contracts to be completed for the sale of the nine sites.

After the group occupied the foyer of Remploy’s Leicester head office, managers said no company directors were available to meet them. However, the eight finally secured a series of phone conferences in the building with the firm’s Finance Director and a number of DWP officials in London.

Les Woodward (pictured, left, in white t-shirt, with others who took part in the occupation), chair of the joint unions consortium, said: “We achieved quite a lot in those four hours.

“We’ve had a message that [Disabilities Minister] Maria Miller wants to speak to us. That’s a major move, because she’s been dodging us for months and months and months.

“There’s no doubt about it: we’ve rattled them today. And there’ll be more to come.”

No date has been set for that meeting.  However, both sides are said to be eager for talks to take place urgently.

Remploy workers at two key sites, at Chesterfield and Glasgow, are scheduled to begin four days of strike action from 3 September.

Union officials believe the strike threat – at factories manufacturing specialist medical equipment for the NHS – has surprised both DWP ministers and Remploy managers.

“They thought that, after last week’s closures, it would be all over – that the workers would be shocked into submission,’ said an official.

More than twenty factories were closed last week and activists are conscious that the government’s determination to implement its closure timetable without any revisions has sapped the confidence of many Remploy workers that they will be able to wrest any concessions from ministers or managers over redundancy terms, or an extension to the closure timetable.

However, those who took part believe Thursday’s action and the forthcoming strikes show that the fight to save the remaining factories and secure jobs for what is left of the Remploy workforce is not over.

Says Jackie Mayer: “I hope this’ll give people a bit of a spurt in confidence.

“We’ve got to look after the remaining eighteen factories [which are still open], plus the nine [about to be sold].  They need our help more than ever now.”


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