MORE than 200 disabled workers in the region are voting over industrial action.

Staff at three Remploy centres in the North-East are being balloted over fears that the company is reducing its workforce through natural wastage.

Remploy, a registered charity, is the biggest employer of disabled people in the UK. The Government pays it a £115m annual subsidy and the factories have a turnover of £180m.

Union officials at the TGWU and GMB accused Remploy of breaking an agreement over guaranteed employment levels for people with disabilities.

Phil Davies, national officer of the GMB, said: "This management has a hidden agenda to reduce the number of disabled people working in skilled factory employment and cannot be trusted to stick to agreements."

Remploy, which has 83 sites and 5,700 disabled workers, denied the accusation. Seventy-nine staff work at its Hartlepool factory making Noddy and Postman Pat pedal cars for a leading toy company.

At Spennymoor, in County Durham, 87 people work on assembly and white goods recycling. About half its workforce have learning disabilities.

Stockton has a workforce of 45, carrying out back office work for blue-chip companies.

A spokeswoman for Remploy said: "The unions are asking us to replace everyone who leaves, even if we have no work for them.

"We have the same trading pressures as all businesses, and we cannot make blanket promises which we know we cannot keep."

The group has replaced 68 of the more than 90 workers who have left so far this year.