Date: 03 November 2008
Meat inspections across Scotland, England, and Wales could be hit by a 72 hour strike in the run up to Christmas, UNISON, the UK's largest public service union, warned today (3 Nov).
1,000 meat inspectors (160 in Scotland) will ballot for strike action after their employers - the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) - refused to pay an agreed rise unless they accepted sweeping cuts to overtime payments and changed to a "work anytime" system. Strike action would severely disrupt meat production, including deliveries of meat to supermarkets.
The union is also urging the MHS to tackle the culture of bullying and harassment in abattoirs. A UNISON survey revealed 77% of staff had witnessed bullying or harassment, with 59% personally experiencing it whilst at work.
Simon Watson, UNISON National Officer for Meat Inspectors, said: "Meat inspectors work hard to make sure the meat on our plates is safe to eat, but they are being pushed to the limit by excessive workloads, staff shortages and totally unacceptable levels of bullying and harassment. On top of all this, staff are now being denied an agreed pay rise unless they accept sweeping cuts to overtime payments and change to a work anytime system.
"The changes will have a devastating effect on meat inspectors and their families. Some of our members tell us they will be £100 a week worse off. Others say they will find family life next to impossible. This is a disgusting way to treat staff who have not had a pay rise since August 2006.
"The employers must give staff the agreed pay rise with no strings attached. If strike action goes ahead, the major meat companies and supermarkets face the loss of millions of pounds in meat production, and a shortage of the traditional Sunday roast."
Joe Lynch, the lead officer for Meat Inspection in Scotland said "Not only will the changes increase pressure, stress and cut staff take home pay, they threaten the health and safety of us all. Public hygiene and food safety are a crucial protective service, to disrupt inspectors lives by last minute shift change, and tie them to their phones 24/7 - especially in an atmosphere of bullying and humiliation - means and increased risk of worse food safety."
A meat inspector from the North of England (who wishes to remain anonymous)* said: "My home life will be shattered if I have to work any time between midnight on Monday to midnight on Friday, often at short notice. I have a young family, and my wife and I need a routine to keep the house running. The cost of everything is going up, but my wages are set to take a massive cut. I stand to lose £100 a week if the meat hygiene service get these changes through, but will be working far more unsocial hours."
A consultative ballot of UNISON Meat Hygiene Inspectors last month showed that 83% were in favour of strike action.
Note to Editors:
*Meat Inspectors work in a highly pressurised environment where they are easily identifiable. They will not be able to give attributable public statements. Contact Chris Bartter or Joe Lynch if you wish to get anonymised comments from Meat Inspectors.
The UNISON bullying survey results also include: 18% of staff reported that bullying happened daily, and a further 23% said that bullying took place weekly. 39% of meat hygiene inspectors said that bullying took the form of shouting, 35% said bullying included humiliation and a further 28% said it happened through victimisation.
The main causes of bullying were stressed managers (27%), stressed colleagues (30%), staff shortages (33%) and excessive workloads (22%). 56% of staff said they put bullying down to poor management, and 40% of workers said they were too scared to report bullying when it did happen.
Two of the main changes to terms and condition proposed are: Meat Inspectors will have to work a 37 hour week at any time between 0:01hrs Monday to 24:00hrs Friday, with shifts or place of work subject to change at short notice. Contractual overtime will be abolished, unsocial hours payments and mileage allowances will be cut.
The MHS is a UK agency, and around 160 UNISON members are meat inspectors working for the MHS in Scotland. They are based across the country in 26 major abbatoirs from Carlisle to Orkney. They inspect and certify meat as fit for human consumption after it has been slaughtered.
For Further Information Please Contact: Joe Lynch (Regional Organiser - Scottish Meat Inspectors) 07958 121 063(m) Chris Bartter (Communications Officer) 0771 558 3729(m)