Vets under pressure to halt work-to-rule action

Disruption to processing will lead to animal welfare issues, claims MII

The ICSA president Patrick Kent
The ICSA president Patrick Kent

Ken Whelan

Farm organisations and meat processors have called for a resumption of talks to end a 'work-to-rule' protest by temporary veterinary inspectors (TVIs) which is seriously disrupting operations at slaughter plants.

Meat factories claim the dispute is continuing to curtail the processing of animals for slaughter - particularly pigs - and concerns have been raised that cull cow disposals will be impacted from next week.

The vets voted for work to rule last May when the Department of Agriculture attempted to change their employment conditions from normal employee status (paying tax and welfare contributions on their work) to casual employee status.

Vets were also concerned that retiring TVIs were not being replaced. Veterinary Ireland chief executive Finbarr Murphy claimed this week that the sector was down some 200 positions which have not been filled by the Department.

Compromise proposals worked out by former chairman of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey, before the Christmas break were broadly accepted by both sides.

However, a late intervention by the Department of Public Enterprise and Reform, saying the deal contravened public sector pay and recruitment guidelines, scuppered this initiative.

Cormac Healy of the processors group Meat Industry Ireland (MII) told the Farming Independent that meat processing - especially pig processing - was feeling the effects of the industrial action.

"Disruption to normal pig processing will quickly lead to animal welfare issues at farm level," he warned.

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The IFA in a statement demanded an immediate resumption of the conciliation talks with a view to a quick end to the dispute.

"The work to rule is affecting the pig factories in particular and the IFA understands that slaughtering of cull cows will be stopped at the factories later this week," an IFA spokesman said this week.

"It is totally unacceptable that farmers are being used as pawns in a chess game between the vets and the Minister for Agriculture."

ICMSA livestock chairman Des Morrison said it was "hard to believe and harder to accept" that a resolution to the dispute remained elusive.

Similarly, ICSA president Patrick Kent said that it was time to reach an agreement between the parties, especially now with only 90 days remaining on the Brexit clock.

The Department said it would "continue to engage with all the relevant parties to resolve the matter as soon as possible so that the meat processing industry can operate as normal and that animal welfare issues are avoided".

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