MHS gets closer to pay deal

The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) is close to agreeing a new pay deal for meat inspectors, following a tense 18 months of negotiations.

UNISON, the workers union representing meat inspectors, has agreed to ballot its members on new terms and conditions, which the MHS says will “significantly improve” operational efficiency and flexibility for food business operators (FB0s).

Geoff Ogle, MHS business director (North), said: “The package of revised terms and conditions of employment (T&Cs) allows work patterns to be changed more easily, which gives greater flexibility
to the MHS to meet the fluctuating demands of industry and reduce overall costs.”

The MHS was forced to drop its idea of a totally flexible 37-hour week, but has won some victories for FBOs. Staff contractually required to work overtime will be obliged to be available to work such additional hours within their working week; overtime hours will only be paid at the ‘time-and-a-half rate’ if that overtime exceeds ‘deficit hours’ (hours in the working week where an employee is available for work but not utilised); the notice time for varying contractual overtime and changing work patterns has been reduced from three months to just one; and mileage payments will be reduced.

UNISON has agreed to put the offer to a ballot with a neutral recommendation, but with the understanding that it is the “best deal achievable by negotiation” and that further improvements would require a substantial period of all-out strike action.

UNISON has pointed out to meat inspectors that, with the abandonment of the ‘flexible 37-hour week’ proposal, the retention of casual overtime and a 2.99% pay rise attached to the deal, the new offer is a significant improvement on what was originally put forward by the MHS.

UNISON’s national officer Simon Watson said: “Our members have fought for over 18 months to defend their T&Cs against vicious proposals that would have taken us back to the time of Dickens. The offer now goes out for members to have their say.”

If accepted, the new T&Cs will be implemented from 1 August 2009. It remains to be seen how the UK’s meat inspectors, who have rejected all other attempts to change their T&Cs, will react to the new offer.

A poll on a meat inspection forum showed that 59% of inspectors think the deal is the best they can hope for in the current climate, while 31% said it was not a good deal and only 9% agreed it was a good deal.

If the majority of UNISON’s members do not accept the proposal, industrial action is likely.

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