Meat hygiene ballot – background

UNISON members in the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are set to ballot for industrial action on pay in the coming weeks, after the employer forced a 0.75% pay rise on them earlier this year.

The agency harmonised pay out of a 1% pot – and took six months to do it. As RPI inflation was at 2.8% in February, this meant that our members took a 2.05% cut in real pay on top of last year’s poor pay imposition.

That came against the background of a flawed performance-related pay system that automatically fails 85% of the workforce.

Yet our members in the agency work in some of the most awful working conditions in the country.

Meat hygiene inspectors work covered in blood and faeces in order to protect the public and safeguard animal welfare.

They face bullying and harassment on a daily basis, threats of physical violence and an employer that does not support them or back them up against food business operators.

We also have members who are managers and they face an impossible job, always put under pressure by the FSA to be more ‘industry friendly’.

UNISON also represents official veterinarians who face similar conditions to the inspectors, but many are employed by contractors, are often told to work far from home and are paid a poor salary.

They face poor communication, limited-hour contracts (especially if they complain), no sick pay and no pension. They are sent to work all over the UK and so are unable to settle in one place, receive low car mileage rates and no paid travel time, and get no paid time off for compulsory training.

UNISON believes our members are Worth It – and worth more.

In a union survey, 88.2% of members said they did not believe that the FSA is truly independent of industry, while 99% said the meat industry could not be trusted to carry out meat inspection itself on behalf of the consumer.

Our members inspect all animals slaughtered for human consumption before they are allowed to enter the food chain, and animals not fit for slaughter are removed from the line.

Campylobacter is the most common form of food poisoning and is found in chicken, while tuberculosis can be present in pigs.

Inspectors stop abscesses and tumours from being minced into meat. Inspectors and vets report when animals are abused and want to do more for animal welfare.

Slaughterhouses producing meat for supermarkets have to install CCTV for animal welfare reasons and our inspectors want to check it, but are not given the opportunity by the FSA.

“Most people do not know that a small group of meat inspectors and vets keep them safe from harmful and repulsive additions to your sausages, Sunday roast and beef pies,” says Heather Wakefield, UNISON head of local government.

“They work in some of the most awful working conditions and do so for all of us who eat meat. They face bullying, harassment, and work in blood and animal discharges each and every day.

“They also safeguard animal welfare and are always the first to be under attack, not only from the food business operators but also from our government.”

The yearly cost to the tax payer of a meat inspector is around 50p per year.

In the last two years, our members stopped the following from entering the human food chain:

  • 560,000 cases of milk spot caused by parasitic roundworm larvae in pigs;
  • 3 million chickens contaminated with faeces;
  • 2 million instances of tapeworm in red meat;
  • 3 million animals with pneumonia;
  • 450,000 animals with abscesses;
  • 28,000 animals with tuberculosis ;
  • 5.5 million chickens with ascites – a build-up of fluid caused by heart or liver diseases;
  • 1.8 million cases of peritonitis;
  • 4 million cases of septicaemia.

Meat hygiene inspectors to be balloted for strike action

Key issue: Keeping meat inspection public and safe

UNISON in local government

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