Tuesday 22 May 2007

Disability rights or capitalist wrongs?

Remploy, a company which employs workers with disabilities, has announced plans to close 43 factories (BBC News "Disability firm to close 43 sites") - leading to calls for strike action from a number of trade unions, notably the GMB, which represent Remploy workers (GMB website: "Unions move to national strike at Remploy").

A number of disability charities have supported the closures: the BBC News article reports "Mencap, Mind, Radar, Scope, Leonard Cheshire and the Royal National Institute of Deaf People have said disabled people were more likely to have fulfilling lives by working in an 'inclusive environment'." However, the Remploy Trade Union Consortium have criticised Remploy for planning to close factories in areas of already high unemployment, and the charities for acting against the wishes of disabled workers.

Ideally, I believe it would be better if disabled and non-disabled workers worked together in non-segregated workplaces, on equal wages and equal terms and conditions of employment. However, closing factories - of whatever nature - in areas of high unemployment is unlikely to achieve this. Especially when according to Scope's own Time To Get Equal website, "In summer 2003, only 49% of disabled people of working age were in work, compared to 81% of non-disabled people in work." More likely, the factory closures would make more people with disabilities equal to non-disabled unemployed people!

In my Red Disability article on charities, I have previously argued that disability charities have always tended to operate on behalf of, rather than for, people with disabilities. The charities involved seem to be proving that point, by ignoring the wishes of the Remploy workers themselves.

Meanwhile, Remploy themselves have admitted the real reason for the factory closures - cost cutting. Whatever their public image, Remploy are acting just like any capitalist company, obsessed by profit and loss with the workers ultimately paying the price.

In reality, the best way to create an inclusive environment is by comprehensive equal rights legislation (with no exemptions), and the creation of decently paid jobs for all workers by investment in public services. Not by sacking workers, whether disabled or not!

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