Strike called off but trade stays on high alert

The fresh meat industry remains braced for possible disruption after planned strike action by inspectors was averted at the eleventh hour.

UNISON is meeting government officials to discuss the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme and hopes to reach an agreement to protect existing staff pensions. However, there are still fears that inspection workers could be called out again as UNISON has pencilled in rolling regional action from 25-27 April as well as national action in May if no agreement is made.

The Meat Hygiene Service is braced for potential action, said spokesman Richard Billinge: "We always have to be aware that further strike action could be called and our members could be called. We need to make sure our contingency plans are refined and up-to-date."

There are also concerns that staff brought in to cope with a strike could be potentially dangerous. However, UNISON's general secretary Dave Prentis slammed its attempts to arrange temporary cover. He added: "The MHS had been desperately trying to assemble a ramshackle team of poorly trained, inexperienced agency staff and retired vets to cover for the striking meat inspectors.

Agency staff have only recently been flown in from Europe, and in many cases, have never worked as meat inspectors before. There is no way they will be able to replace 1,000 professionals and posed a major threat to public safety."

The MHS insisted that those staff brought in would not have been authorised unless they were fully competent, adding that no meat would have entered the food chain unless it had gone through the normal stringent checks required by law.

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