A five-day strike by members of the NI Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) working across DAERA’s veterinary service is set to have a devastating impact on abattoir throughput in NI.
Due to begin on Monday, 30 October, the strike involves vets and meat hygiene inspectors working across red meat and poultry processing establishments.
Back in April 2023, a one-day walk-out disrupted the kill, with only one beef and sheep abattoir able to stay operational. On that occasion, DAERA prioritised pig and poultry processing and was able to keep these factories open by re-directing non-union staff – the concern is that a backlog of pigs or poultry would quickly lead to animal welfare issues.
Sources in beef and sheep processing fear a similar approach will be taken again. One source described the implications of a one-week shutdown as “absolutely massive”, given the numbers currently coming forward as factories ramp up throughput in preparation for Christmas.
The NIPSA strike also has potential implications for goods moving into NI, with DAERA vet staff at ports taking part in the week-long action.
In a statement, NIPSA said the action is in protest over a pay award of £552 to all civil servants in NI for 2022/2023.
“Our members are fed up with derisory pay awards. They see their counterparts elsewhere on these islands receive significantly better pay and are no longer prepared to suffer in silence,” said NIPSA general secretary, Carmel Gates.
On enquiry, a DAERA spokesperson said the Department respected the rights of colleagues to take industrial action and sincerely regrets that the current budget situation means it has not been possible to provide a “meaningful” pay award for staff.
When asked what contingency plans are being put in place and whether DAERA will prioritise pig and poultry slaughter, the DAERA spokesperson added:
“If strike action proceeds as has been indicated, there will be significant disruption for meat processing establishments, which may present issues in relation to animal health and welfare, public health and continuity of the food supply chain.
“DAERA is taking all steps open to it to mitigate these issues and maintain its essential statutory obligations and is working with its stakeholders, industry, and other partners to explore how the impacts might be alleviated.”