Eville & Jones payout could threaten meat inspection, warns Unison

Union leaders have warned that the UK’s sole provider of meat hygeine services could be facing financial difficulties after being forced to pick up a £0.5m debt from a previous contractor.

Eville & Jones (E&J) has already paid out over £400,000 to staff, who were left unpaid by their former employer, Grants Veterinary Services (GVSL), which went into administration last week.

Trade union Unison said this could leave E&J “financially unstable”, and warned that there may be further liabilities in the form of overtime, pensions and income tax contributions left unpaid by GVSL. The union has called on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to intervene and ensure its contractor can survive.

“There is concern that this is £0.5m-worth of wages and there may be other liabilities from Grants, so what are the implications going to be on E&J and its stability in the long run? We are pushing the FSA to intervene and make sure its current contractor is going to be financially stable. Otherwise, it is the meat industry that is going to be put at risk,” said Unison national officer Simon Watson.

E&J managing director Jason Aldiss said he felt committed to paying the staff, many of whom were struggling to make rent and mortgage payments, but admitted that having to make £400,000-worth of additional payments just one month after taking over the contract for meat hygiene in the UK had left his business facing serious financial challenges. “We have been able to negotiate overdraft and credit facilities from a cashflow point of view so that means that we can operate, but we are not in a good place,” he said.

Aldiss said he had approached the FSA for help and it was being “very supportive and doing what it can within its limitations”. However, the agency has informed him that Eville & Jones is liable for the payment under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations.

The FSA has also said it will make the final payment due to GVSL, which will now go to administrators. Unison wants to see the FSA use the money instead to reimburse E&J and make any outstanding payments to staff. “We think the money should be used to make sure the service is going to be secure in the future, rather than being paid to a bankrupt company, which has run the service down and treated its staff shoddily,” said Watson.

Unison members have already protested outside the FSA offices and Watson said it was leaving “all options open” in terms of the action it might take if the FSA did not agree to intervene. He added that it would revise its position after a meeting with the FSA, which, as MTJ went to press, was scheduled for Wednesday 25 April.