STRIKING workers at the Remploy furniture factory in Baglan have expressed anger at the decision to close 36 of the company’s 54 sites in the UK and told of fears for the future of their plant.
Speaking on the picket line outside the factory gates during today’s 24-hour protest, factory worker Mark Hopton, aged 50, of Pontardawe, said: “We are here to support our colleagues across the country who are losing their jobs.
“We have a problem with the Government closing down the factories, and with the redundancy packages on offer. Thirty-six of the 54 Remploy plants have already been earmarked for closure, and we think the other 18 – including Baglan – will be going in April 2013.”
Mr Hopton, who has worked at the factory for 12 years, added: “It is hard enough for anyone to find work in the current economic climate, but Remploy workers, most of whom have disabilities, are extremely unlikely to find employment elsewhere.
“There are people working here whose disabilities are so severe that they can’t be on the picket line today. We are fighting for the best deal we can get. ”
Unite Wales secretary Andy Richards said: “Remploy workers are making a stand with strike action against the shoddy and downright disgusting way they have been treated by the UK coalition government.
“Both today and next Thursday, Unite will be steadfastly supporting our members in their action, and fighting for the future work and wellbeing of disabled workers.”
Aberavon MP Hywel Francis said earlier: “I fully support the trade union campaign to safeguard the jobs of all Remploy employees. The closure of five of the seven Welsh Remploy factories is a terrible blow for disabled workers in Wales.
“I understand and support the just cause of the Remploy workers who are striking in 54 factories across Britain later in protest against this callous Government decision.”
This week a £2.4 million scheme was announced for employers in Wales that give jobs to former Remploy workers for at least four years.
The Employer Support Grant will contribute towards wages and “all other reasonable costs” which arise from employing a disabled worker.
It was announced by Education Minister Leighton Andrews after the UK Government confirmed five Remploy sites in Wales will close with the loss of at least 183 jobs.
The sites closing are Aberdare, Abertillery, Merthyr Tydfil, Swansea and Wrexham.
The UK government says the £320 million budget for disabled employment services could be spent more effectively.
Mr Andrews said the closures were a devastating blow to the workers and their communities.
“This Welsh Government believes employment and dignity should not be a privilege. So we have acted swiftly to support the workers who face unemployment,” he added.
“We have been working with local authorities, social enterprises, supported businesses and private sector businesses to identify potential employment opportunities.”
Mr Richards welcomed the announcement.
“We will keep working with the Welsh Government and fighting for Remploy workers,” he added.