City 'trying to close plant by back door'

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STAFF at a disabled workshop rescued from the axe today claimed council chiefs were now trying to force its closure by the back door.

&#149 Labour leader Iain Gray joined a protest at Holyrood against Blindcraft's closure last year

The 53 employees at Blindcraft in Craigmillar, many of whom are blind or otherwise disabled, have been told they have nine days to accept new terms and conditions or the factory will shut.

The 216-year-old institution was earmarked for closure to save 700,000 last November and was only saved when the workers offered to switch to a three-day week until the workshop's long-term future could be secured.

But now they claim the council has broken off talks with the unions. And they say the new contracts they are being offered includes a 40 per cent reduction in redundancy entitlements if the workshop closes any time after the initial six-month transition period, which could mean some individuals losing up to 13,000.

A deadline of January 26 has been set for workers to accept or reject the deal on offer. If a majority fails to sign up, a full council meeting will be asked to approve the closure of Blindcraft.

One employee said: "There are a lot of things in there that haven't been discussed. They are pointing a gun at our heads. It feels as if there are deliberate scare tactics going on so people will reject it and the council can save the money."

The employee said workers were dismayed by the council's attitude.

"This is an unprecedented move for council workers to go on a three-day week but now we are going to be penalised for trying to help save a disabled workshop. We hoped the council would meet us halfway."

Many workers have been at the factory for years. But the terms proposed are understood to mean that after six months, anyone taking redundancy would have their payment calculated on the basis of a three-day week even if they had worked a five-day week for the previous 20 years.

All the unions with members at the factory are due to meet later this week to discuss the situation. John Paul McHugh, regional officer of Community union, said his last meeting with the council had been on December 18 and he had expected further talks.

He said: "I was not expecting we would be issued with an agreement and told it was a take-it-or-leave-it document.

"I was under the impression that although time was of the essence and there was an aspiration to move to a decision by late January or early February, there was still room for dialogue."

Councillor Steve Cardownie, the city's deputy leader, said: "Councillors will be seeking to address the concerns of Blindcraft staff and ensure they don't feel rail-roaded into any deal so we can help take the company into the future."