Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said a strike could be very disruptive for farmers, processors, retailers and even consumers.
“In principle it’s disruptive because, at the very first point, the animals have to be slaughtered when they are ready and if there are no inspectors, then they can’t be slaughtered,” Rossides told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
‘Slack in the system’
“What I don’t know, though, is how much slack there is in the system and what meat there is [frozen in storage] that can be called on.”
Unison, the union balloting the workers over an imposed pay rise of 0.75%, defended its decision today (July 16) and said ballot papers would be sent out to more than 500 members working for the FSA in England, Wales and Scotland.
The FSA said it was disappointed Unison members were being balloted to take strike action, as it was still discussing its 2014/2015 pay proposals.
“However, should Unison members vote in favour of strike action, the FSA will invoke its contingency plans to ensure minimum disruption,” a spokesman said.
An above inflation pay rise is being sought by Unison, which would begin to make up some of the alleged 15% lost from the FSA staff’s pay packets under the coalition government, it said.
The ballot is for meat hygiene inspectors and those who support them, including vets, finance and administrative staff.
Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said: “Our members working for the FSA do a vital job to ensure that the meat on our plates is free from disease and safe to eat.
“They have an enormous responsibility in maintaining consumer health, and it is right that they receive a pay increase that is at least in line with inflation,” added Prentis.
Unison has called on the FSA for further pay negotiations, he said. He also called it an insult and claimed the FSA had chosen to impose below inflation pay awards two years in a row without a “real consultation”.
Furthermore, Unison published background information on its website, which used bullying allegations as part of its argument for the ballot for the ballot.
‘Bullying and harassment’
“They face bullying and harassment on a daily basis, threats of physical violence and an employer that does not support them or back them up against food business operators,” claimed Unison.
An FSA spokesman said it valued the important role played by its frontline staff, adding: “We aim for agreement over pay with the unions that represent them.
“The FSA operates within government pay policy, which has set an overall limit on pay increases of 1%, so in line with this available funding we have made formal pay proposals to the trade unions for 2014/15 for a 0.75% consolidated pay increase to all members of staff.”
In the last two years, meat inspectors stopped the following from entering the human food chain, according to Unison:
- 560,000 cases of milk spot cases
- 3M chickens contaminated with faeces
- 2M instances of tapeworm in red meat
- 3M animals with pneumonia
- 28,000 animals with tuberculosis
- 450,000 animals with abscesses
- 5.5M chickens with ascites – a build-up of fluid caused by heart or liver disease
- 1.8M cases of peritonitis
- 4M cases of septicaemia
The union also claimed meat inspectors cost the taxpayer around 50p a year.