Rescue deal for disabled workers

THE Government has dramatically intervened to help make the future of under-threat disabled workers' jobs at a South Yorkshire factory more secure.

Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain headed-off a union revolt at Labour's annual conference by agreeing a 555 million rescue package for Remploy workers.

Bosses wanted to close the Remploy factory in Barnsley, at a loss of 38 disabled workers' jobs.

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They complained the factory in Pogmoor loses 1 million a year and said it should be axed, with its staff relocated to a site in Brightside Lane, Sheffield.

Now, Mr Hain has agreed to remove the right of the factories' management board to approve any closures. It means none of the 42 factories across the country that faced the axe can be closed at the moment.

Only ministers will in the future be able to sanction closures, which the unions think unlikely if there is an early election. Mr Hain also confirmed he is talking to his cabinet colleagues about how Remploy can win more contracts from government departments.

Unions hope a 150 million order for military and NHS uniforms would be a vital lifeline for the firm.

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Under EU competitive tendering rules, ministries need not go to the lowest bidder if they wish to protect national jobs for disabled workers. Repeating an earlier pledge that there will be no "compulsory redundancies", Mr Hain said a public subsidy of 555 million over five years would be available for the firm.

Mr Hain yesterday declared: "Remploy has a good future - with both change for Remploy and justice for Remploy workers."

He added: "I have also made clear to Remploy management that no factory closures will take place without the agreement of government ministers.

"And, whatever the final shape of that agreement, the government will provide a subsidy of more than half a billion pounds over five years - a 555 million package - for Remploy to have a successful future. A figure the trade unions have also agreed. And a categorical guarantee: There will be no compulsory redundancies for Remploy's disabled workers. Salaries guaranteed. Full final salary pensions protected as well."

Unions will today announce the result of ballots for industrial action among Remploy workers in protest at the closure plans.