MHS must stand firm

Meat bosses are calling on the Food Standards Agency and the Meat Hygiene Services to stand firm in the face of strike action threatened by Unison.

The British Meat Proccessors Association has urged the authorities not to deviate from the proposed changes to the MHS, despite the fact Unison is balloting members over a proposal which includes a move to rostering work over a 37 hour week and removing the right to be paid compulsory overtime.

Stuart Roberts, director of the BMPA, said: "In today's world, it is not unreasonable to expect people to work flexibly, although from what I understand, individuals' working hours will continue to reflect service needs as now. It is absolutely vital that Terms and Conditions are modernised if the MHS is to develop a service that is fit for purpose and at a cost that the Industry and the taxpayer can afford.

"An MHS pay rise is probably overdue but the notion of permanently fixed hours and contractual overtime is now all but consigned to employment history."

If the Unison ballot is successful, it is likely to lead to a 72-hour strike on either the week commencing 1 or 8 December.

The BMPA estimates such strike action could cost the industry up to £3m.

The proposals have angered Scottish processors, who point out the only people likely to be hurt by the action is the food business operators themselves, and not the MHS or FSA.

Allan Jess, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, said: "It's a crazy situation in which our members and their staff stand to lose out badly, without having any authority to even talk to inspectors about their concerns.

"We are innocent bystanders in this dispute, as are the farmers whose stock we won't be able to handle if the strike goes ahead. It's imperative that the inspectors and their employers negotiate together now at every opportunity to reach an understanding or resolution before positions become entrenched and relationships are damaged irrevocably."

He said the strike was likely to cost Scottish abattoirs alone £1.3m.

"Without seeking to make any judgments concerning who is right and who is wrong in the UNISON/MHS dispute, we would ask both parties to urgently seek a solution which doesn't involve the whole meat chain," said Jess.