More than 150 veterinary staff employed by the Veterinary Service Animal Health Group are set to walk out of ports across Northern Ireland from 30 October in a dispute over pay. Strike action is expected to last for five days.
Strike action will mean that no slaughter of cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry can take place across the whole of Northern Ireland for that week because Official Veterinarians will not be on site at abattoirs.
The BMPA highlighted three major issues sparked by the walk out, the first of which being concerns over animal welfare – particularly in the pork sector – as pigs begin to pack up on farms.
Second, farmers could become unable to sell their livestock as the animals become too big and ‘out of scope’ for supermarket shelves. The BMPA warned that the number of animals involved could mean it will take months for producers to recover from the loss of those five production days.
Describing the potential third consequence of the strike, BMPA chief executive Nick Allen added: “It will mean that meat plants will have to cease operations, causing loss of income for those businesses, and disrupting food supply chains.
“This is a particular worry as we enter the busiest period of the year in the run up to Christmas when our members are preparing festive products like hams and pigs-in-blankets for the Christmas market.”
Delicate relations between UK and NI
Industrial action by the NI vets also sparked concerns regarding the UK government’s negotiations with the DUP over the Windsor Framework. The walkout could expose the scale of border checks that are still needed to get food from the UK mainland to Northern Ireland – even through the so called ‘green lane’ and demonstrate that the Irish sea border has not been removed.
“Our members are extremely concerned over the lack information and a contingency plan,” Allen continued. “So far, they’ve heard nothing from the Northern Ireland Civil Service about if and how they plan to prioritise veterinary cover in meat plants to avoid causing animal welfare issues and disruption to the food supply chain.”
The BMPA urged the Government to step in and engage with all parties, draw up emergency plans and help settle the dispute.
Meanwhile, Unite has warned that whisky maker Chivas Brothers could face strike action after workers rejected its pay offer.