RETIRED vets on lucrative pensions are being re-hired to carry out inspections some three years after the Department of Agriculture targeted €5m in savings each year by replacing vets with cheaper civil servants.
There has been a lengthy delay in handing over responsibility for food safety inspections at meat factories to technical staff within the department.
The trade union Impact has now complained to the Croke Park Implementation Body about the delay.
It has emerged in recent days that 59 retired department vets are on a panel for the lucrative work.
It can be worth as much as €82,000 a year to each vet for the work, which is paid for on a shift basis.
The department carried out a Value for Money review in 2009 which found that transferring responsibility for the inspections to trained civil servants was in line with European Union practice and would generate savings of €4.3m to €5.6m.
Under EU law, carcasses must be inspected at all slaughterhouses to ensure meat is safe to eat.
The department here paid €17m in 2010 to 656 private and retired vets to carry out this work.
Impact said that over 100 civil servants had received training in these duties, but the transfer was still tied up in talks with vets who are resisting the move.
The handover of duties should be nearing completion by now, the union said, but instead a crucial final module of training has still not been provided to staff.
That final module will only be extended to around 12 staff on a pilot basis instead of the full number, the union said.
Asked why the cost-saving move to replace vets with technical staff had not yet happened, the department said discussions were "at an advanced stage and further comment at this time would not be helpful".
None of the vets employed as temporary veterinary inspectors retired in the February exodus from the civil service, a department spokesperson said.
However, another three former veterinary staff who did retire in February have been re-hired on a contract basis in department laboratories.
These contracts are due to expire in August, September and December, 2012, the department said.
Another vet on secondment to the department from a county council had also been re-engaged since his retirement in February.
And a laboratory analyst has also been re-hired to provide training to department staff on fish farm inspections.
However, there is little indication that the re-hiring of retired vets is hitting the job prospects of new graduates.
Employment prospects for veterinary graduates have held up despite the recession, UCD's School of Veterinary Science said.
Around two-thirds of the vets who qualified last year registered to take up employment in Ireland, said school manager John Buckley.
The remainder would have emigrated but that had been common practice amongst newly qualified vets, he said.