Friday, November 19, 2010

Activists fight to save factory in Scotland that employs 70 disabled people

From The Edinburgh Times:

"Why not explore an over-arching management structure? Why have five general managers, five sales teams and five everything else? Why not put in joint bids for work that is being tendered for?"

The union will put its case to councillors again at the start of the Nov. 18 meeting.

Hannah Lister, who has led a public campaign to save the factory, said BlindCraft was "absolutely integral" to the lives of its employees.

She said: "It's not just a job for these people - some of them have admitted they would be better off on benefits - it's the feeling of inclusion. It has provided a lifeline for them."

She hopes people will join the demonstration in support of BlindCraft outside the City Chambers Nov. 18. "There has been a great deal of support in Edinburgh. People have been signing up to the Facebook page and signing the petition and saying what a good campaign there has been, but we don't want praise; all we want is for the council to listen and for the outcome, for now, to be a three-day week.

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald gave her backing to the campaign. She said: "I'm utterly opposed to BlindCraft being allowed to go under. The majority of people working there would find it doubly difficult to find alternative employment. I think they must be considered as something of a special case and deserving of that extra bit of leeway from the council."

Machine worker David Anderson is one of around 70 BlindCraft workers threatened with redundancy.

The 45-year-old has worked at the bed-making factory for almost 14 years and is skilled on a double-headed sewing machine despite suffering cerebellar ataxia, a condition which induces indiscriminate tremors, poor balance and impedes his mobility.

He is among two-thirds of employees registered blind or disabled.

He told the News that while BlindCraft pays his salary, it also forms a central pillar of his social life. He met his fiance Michelle there nine years ago and some of his closest friends work alongside him on the factory floor. But most importantly, he said the work gives him independence and dignity.

He said: "My illness started having an effect when I was about 15 or 16-years-old but it wasn't diagnosed until two years later.

"At that time I was an apprentice plasterer and was managing to blag my way through for a while. But when it started having a greater affect on my balance and things I couldn't go up scaffolding anymore.

"I left the job and was quite positive about finding employment. I then worked as a delivery driver, cleaner, kitchen porter and even as a groundsman for private school."

But David's illness is degenerative and he fears that unless he can find another socially-inclusive employer like BlindCraft he will struggle to find work.

"To be honest if there was not a BlindCraft I would be left in the house most of the day.

"One of the reasons we are fighting closure is not just for us but the disabled people who come after us. I'm just a caretaker in this job until someone else comes along after me.

"Within BlindCraft I have met some of the most amazing guys who are so pleased to be out working.

"The facility gives them the opportunity to thrive and contribute to the community. It gives them the chance to own their own home, pay their rent and buy a pint for themselves at the end of the week with money earned and from their own pocket.

"It would be devastating for me if I had to sit in the house day in and day out, it really would.

"I love going out to work and have worked everyday of my life since I left school - I need to work."

Asked what his message was to the powerwielders set to decide his fate tomorrow, he said: "Instead of keeping us at arms length, embrace us.

"None of us want to be a cost to the taxpayer, we want like to be able to operate on an equal footing so the council don't have to worry and to ensure we are not back in this same position in five years time."

Labour and the Greens have pledged they will vote to keep BlindCraft open.

The Tories say they will listen to the argument put by the deputations.

Liberal Democrat and SNP councillors look set to back the recommendation to close the factory.

Lesley Hinds, Labour's social care spokeswoman, said: "Morally, we should not be closing it. But financially it doesn't make sense either."

Tory economic development spokesman Jason Rust said: "Whatever is decided it is vital that the long-term future of staff is considered paramount."

Green councillor Alison Johnstone said: "We need to be doing more to make sure everyone has equal opportunity in employment. Closing BlindCraft would be a step in the wrong direction."

Lib Dem Paul Edie, convener of the health and social care committee, said: "BlindCraft is a significant trading organisation and is required to break even. In recent years, the council has been subsidising it to a level of £1m per year. Many options have been discussed as to how we help the factory operate on a firmer financial footing."

The city council wants to save £700,000 by closing Blindcraft - but there are other cuts it could make to save a significant sum of money.

Council chiefs need look no further than their own "propaganda" newspaper Outlook, which is estimated to cost council taxpayers £200,000 a year.

Opposition councillors have joined with community leaders to demand that it should be scrapped.

But the council claims the paper provides important information to thousands of people and is "good value".