Confirmation this afternoon from Unison that it intends to halt production
in major UK meat plants has been greeted with dismay by NFU Scotland. Unison
has announced that the Meat Hygiene Service alone will be on strike from
midnight on Sunday 2 April to midnight on Friday 7 April. The MHS is required
to certify meat before it can enter the food chain.
Whilst stressing that NFUS is not criticising Unison’s attempts to
support its members over pensions, NFUS believes that Unison’s action
is misdirected and will cost jobs. It will cause major disruption to private
businesses that have no ability to influence its campaign. Already the threat
of a strike has resulted in Scotland’s only remaining pig processing
facility in Broxburn giving notice to 150 workers, with the future of the
remaining 850 in serious doubt if it cannot open next week.
NFUS also believes Unison’s actions could lead to animal welfare problems
for pig farmers in particular if they are unable to move animals for processing
NFUS President John Kinnaird said:
“I am not in anyway suggesting that Unison is wrong to be fighting
its corner on pensions, but I am now hugely concerned at its methods of doing
so. I genuinely don’t understand why Unison would wish to threaten
people’s jobs in an attempt to put pressure on government. I’m
sure this disruption will give a high profile to their cause but do they
expect to get public sympathy by damaging businesses, and potentially putting
people out of work, even though these individuals are innocent victims of
this dispute and are in no position to influence Unison’s cause?
“We understand discussions are continuing between Hall’s of
Broxburn, the only remaining pigs facility in Scotland, and its MHS inspectors.
It is vital that the plant opens next week – if it doesn’t it
could be a devastating and permanent blow to the Scottish pigs industry and
the 1000 jobs that factory alone supports. Other meat plants in Scotland
who can face fixed operating costs of between £150,000 and £200,000
will be dealt a crippling blow by the strike. Hall’s has already stated
it may not re-open if forced to close next week – it could be the same
story for other plants.
“For pig farmers facing a week with no market outlet, there could
be real animal welfare problems if they do not have enough space to deal
with animals that would normally have left the farm.
“There is a lesson in here for government which must have a contingency
plan in place to deal with this. It needs to see what can be done now to
deal with this. Surely we can arrange a suitable derogation to allow other
suitably qualified individuals, like vets, to do the MHS inspectors job in
these kinds of exceptional circumstances? Consumers, farmers and our meat
industry should not be penalised because a handful of inspectors down tools.”
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