Widespread disruption at ports and food processing expected as vets working for DAERA begin strike

Widespread disruption is expected in ports and food processing as vets working for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) begin five days of strike action on Monday.

DAERA have said that the strike could lead to "issues" in the "continuity of agri-food supply chains."

Vets who work at ports in Northern Ireland stopped work at midnight and walked out.

They will be joined later by other members across the Veterinary Service Animal Health Group (VSAHG), including those who work at food processing sites.

Nipsa and GMB members across VSAHG will strike from Monday October 30 until Friday November 3.

The action is in protest over a pay award of £552 to all civil servants in Northern Ireland for 2022/23, when inflation was above 10%.

The NIO has said it has no power to negotiate pay and the Secretary of State's priority was to see the return of power sharing.

Normal services will stop at Northern Ireland ports at midnight on October 29.

In a statement, DAERA said it "regrets sincerely that the budget situation" in NI has led to a low pay offer being made.

They continued: "If strike action proceeds as has been indicated, there will be significant disruption to the delivery of many of the department’s veterinary and animal health functions, including delivery of official controls and other official activities across sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) inspection facilities, meat plants and field operations.

"If there is no resolution to the current pay dispute, the industrial action is likely to present issues in relation to animal health and welfare, public health and continuity of agri-food supply chains.

"At this stage, DAERA VSAHG cannot guarantee that they will be able to provide their statutory services from 30 October to 03 November 2023 and would stress to operators of businesses that rely on these services the importance of activating their own business continuity/emergency plans.

Nipsa General Secretary Carmel Gates said that members are "fed up" with low pay awards.

"They see their counterparts elsewhere on these islands receive significantly better pay and are no longer prepared to suffer in silence.

"They have been subjected to a sanctions budget which is intended to punish politicians.  Unfortunately, it is workers and public services that are being harmed.

"There is a real and growing crisis across DAERA, with problems recruiting and retaining staff in VSAHG and the key reason is historically low pay.

"The latest paltry pay award, following decades of austerity and below inflation pay awards, is a further kick in the teeth to all hard-working civil servants.

These members play a vital role in ensuring we have a safe food supply.  Political decision makers have the power to address this issue by making the funds available to end pay inequality. There must now be urgent engagement with NIPSA and a commitment to provide the funds needed to resolve the dispute.”

A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson added: "The Secretary of State would be happy to meet with representatives from NIPSA to discuss the industrial action, but the UK Government has no authority to negotiate public sector pay in Northern Ireland.“The Secretary of State's priority is to see the return of locally elected, accountable and effective devolved government, which is the best way for Northern Ireland to be governed.”

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