Meat hygiene inspectors have voted in favour of strike action in the lead-up to Christmas in response to alleged cuts in overtime payments and the introduction of a ‘work anytime’ system by the Meat Hygiene Service.

Public sector workers union Unison said in a statement last week that its inspector members had voted in favour of action by a margin of two to one.

Unison issued a stark warning that the industry could ill-afford strike action in the key Christmas period.

“Unless the employers abandon their plans and get back around the table to negotiate a settlement, the industry could lose millions of pounds in lost meat production in the run-up to Christmas,” said Unison national officer Simon Watson.

The threat of a strike, which would impact on sales of Christmas favourites such as chipolatas, hams and devils on horseback, first emerged three weeks ago, when the MHS was accused of trying to introduce a ‘work anytime’ system (The Grocer, 8 November).

The MHS denied this and said it remained optimistic that a settlement between the two opposing parties could be reached.

“We have always felt that it would be possible to reach a negotiated settlement which reflected both a fair deal for our staff and a commitment to modernising the Meat Hygiene Service,” said chief executive Steve McGrath.

The MHS will meet with Unison officials later today. The body claims it has arrangements in place to prevent major disruption to meat production in the event of industrial action.