Meat hygiene inspectors are threatening further strike action, having staged two separate walkouts at the end of August in a dispute with the Food Standards Agency over pay.
According to trade union Unison, the FSA imposed a 0.75% pay rise on its members, whereas it is demanding an “above inflation pay rise”.
Unison said the two four-hour strikes by meat inspectors, veterinarians and support staff had heaped further pressure on the FSA. “If the FSA wants to avoid further strikes, it must recognise the strength of feeling among its staff and work with us to negotiate a fair pay settlement,” said general secretary Dave Prentis.
But the FSA insisted the strikes had had a minimal impact across the whole meat sector, with just a quarter of its operational staff involved in the action.
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In the poultry sector, 77% of poultry slaughterhouses operated a full service, 7% a partial service, with the remainder either operating on other days or not ordinarily requiring meat hygiene services.
“The FSA is disappointed the industrial action went ahead, at a time when Unison said it was still committed to talks with us,” said a spokesman. “In terms of throughput, we expect most plant operators will not be affected, or will have opportunity to make up their production.”
Unison said that staff in slaughterhouses work in some of the most dirty, difficult and stressful conditions,to keep the public safe from contaminated meat. “They should be recognised for the vital role they play.”
It claimed its members had prevented two million chickens contaminated with faeces from entering the human food chain in the past two years, as well as five-and-a-half million birds with ascites.
But Norman Bagley, policy director with the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, said the figures were “spurious” and did not take into account “the diligence of plant-employed staff who work under the permanent supervision of government employed vets”.