Meat hygiene inspectors have called off a planned strike, just hours after announcing that a walkout would take place next week.

Unison served notice on Tuesday that inspectors would strike from 2-4 December, but withdrew that threat later the same day after an agreement on pay was reached.

Inspectors have agreed to a pay rise of 2.99%, backdated to August 2007, the union said. However, talks over the second year’s pay deal and changes to work patterns were set to continue, the body added.

The agreement rules out the possibility of any industrial action taking place before Christmas, according to a spokesman for the Meat Hygiene Service.

“We still have some tough talking to do over the “work anytime” proposals and members have a right to expect movement on their 2008 pay deal,” said Simon Watson, Unison national officer for meat inspectors.

“However the agreement with the MHS signals a willingness to reach a negotiated agreement and Unison will work hard to ensure we get the best deal possible for our members.”

Talks had intensified after Unison members voted two-to-one in favour of a 72-hour walkout last Friday that could cause chaos to red meat supply in the build up to Christmas. Industry estimates had put the potential cost of strikes to the sector at £3m.

The MHS said that, as a gesture of goodwill, it would be implementing the first year of the two-year pay deal from January 2009.

“I have always been confident that we could reach an agreement and I look forward to continuing our constructive dialogue in the New Year,” said chief executive Steve McGrath.

NFU Scotland, which had expressed major concerns over the festive meat supply to supermarkets and butchers, welcomed news of the agreement.

“The festive period is such an important time for farmers and the meat trade,” said NFUS vice-president Nigel Miller. “The potential for disruption was hanging over the industry but now that has been lifted, we can all look forward to this busy spell.”