Some food safety staff at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are being asked if they want to go on strike because of their pay. 

Several hundred meat inspectors, vets, and office-based staff in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are involved, said Unison, a union in the United Kingdom.

Mike Short, Unison’s head of local government, said the FSA needs to come up with a higher offer to avoid any disruption to meat supplies during the upcoming holiday season.

“FSA staff play a vital role in keeping contaminated meat off people’s plates. But many must work in difficult and unpleasant conditions inspecting carcasses for signs of disease. These employees protect consumers, ensure good animal welfare, and must be rewarded accordingly,” he said.

Previous offer rejected
Earlier this year, FSA staff voted to reject a pay increase of between 2 percent and 5 percent. Unison said this is significantly lower than inflation and falls short of the 10 percent pay claim put forward by the union. FSA staff last went on strike over pay in 2014.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said if strikes go ahead, it had the potential to bring a lot of the meat supply chain to a standstill.

“Because of the geographical spread of abattoirs and meat processing plants, along with the specialized nature of the job, it won’t always be possible for FSA to re-direct non-striking staff to where they’re needed. To make matters worse, we already have a shortage of people in these posts due to the labor crisis,” according to an association statement.

The group added any strikes would disrupt supplies to shops during the busy Christmas period and could cause animal welfare problems on farms.

Unison’s general secretary, Christina McAnea, has also written to Jeremy Hunt, the UK Chancellor, about the impact of the guidance on pay-setting arrangements in the civil service.

McAnea said the guidance was “out of date” and needs reviewing because of the cost of living crisis.

It resulted in a final pay offer ranging from 0 to 5 percent, depending on grading at the FSA, which was rejected by Unison members at the food agency.

Robert Locker, head of field operations at the Food Standards Agency, said: “We are aware that Unison is currently balloting its members and the ballot closes on Oct. 31. We await the ballot result and notification from Unison of its next steps. Should Unison decide to take industrial action, our contingency plans will help minimize any disruption to meat supplies.”

Enforcement price consultation
Meanwhile, the FSA is consulting on plans to remove discounts on charges to meat companies for enforcement work in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It is separate from proposed changes to how Official Veterinarians (OVs) are resourced.

Recently modified legislation introduced other official activities to separate some jobs from official controls and one of these is enforcement.

From 2021 to 2022 the process started of separating the charges for enforcement from other charges with time spent on chargeable enforcement shown on food firm invoice schedules. When this change was made, charges for enforcement continued to be discounted like charges for official controls at slaughterhouses and game-handling establishments.

The FSA is proposing to remove the discount on charges for enforcement beginning in late March 2023, as it said it is not appropriate that non-compliant businesses benefit from lower rates. Currently, discounts on enforcement work range from 18 percent to 90 percent. Companies can avoid such charges by complying with the relevant legislation.

Time spent on enforcement work would be charged at the full hourly rates determined as part of the FSA’s annual budget process. Rates for 2023 and 2024 will be set in early 2023.

Once the official veterinarian or meat hygiene inspector determines non-compliance, enforcement action may be required. For example, if a letter or a formal notice is needed, the time taken to prepare and issue these documents is chargeable enforcement activity invoiced to the company.

Responses are required by Jan. 4, 2023, and more information can be found here.

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