DISABLED workers at a city factory today spoke of their devastation after being told the jobs which have helped to turn their lives around will be lost.
Staff at Remploy in west Edinburgh returned from lunch yesterday to discover the factory is to close in the coming months.
Many fear they will be unable to find jobs in mainstream workplaces and will be condemned to a life on benefits.
Some burst into tears as they were told of the UK government’s ruling that the factories are no longer financially viable.
The 28 staff – of whom 27 have a physical or mental disability – are among 1750 Remploy employees in the UK expected to lose their jobs when 36 of 54 factories close.
The decision has sparked a political storm, with the government accused of attempting to bury bad news as the announcement was filed in the House of Commons Library rather than made by a minister.
Funding for Remploy will be reduced as of April, with factories expected to close by the end of 2012. Among the workers set to lose their jobs in Edinburgh is Ronnie Williamson, who joined the South Gyle workforce 16 years ago after suffering a nervous breakdown.
The 56-year-old, who is married with one daughter and lives in nearby East Craigs, said: “We went for a lunch and when we returned the management called us back into the canteen and told us. We were gutted. People broke into tears. One person had an epileptic fit brought on by the stress.
“This is our lives, it’s what makes you get up in the morning, knowing that you’ve got skills, there’s work to be done and colleagues depending on you. It’ll be nigh on impossible to find other employment.”
As well as document management and scanning, Remploy in Edinburgh also carries out assembly for electronic products and packaging work.
Mr Williamson said staff feel let down because they had more contracts than they could fulfil and were considering taking on more workers.
The DWP said all disabled Remploy staff affected would get “tailored support” via an £8 million support package running up to 18 months – an average of around £2500 per person. A spokesman said: “It currently costs the government and taxpayer £25,000 each year to support each disabled employee working in a Remploy factory, yet the average Access to Work award to support a disabled person in mainstream employment is £2900.”
However, Phil Brannan, convenor of shop stewards for Remploy factories in Scotland, said research by the GMB, Unite and Community unions had shown that the odds are stacked against disabled people looking for employment.
Mr Brannan said: “In 2008, 29 factories in UK closed, and 3000 severely disabled people lost their jobs. Around 18 months later we surveyed those workers and 84 per cent had not secured employment.”