Move to thwart abattoir strike

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THE GOVERNMENT is secretly attempting to undermine a threatened strike by abattoir inspectors which would have an immediate impact on the supply of fresh meat.

Nearly 1,000 officials are thought to have voted `yes' in a ballot, the result of which will be announced today. They are in the Unison public- service union, one of the Labour's biggest financial backers.

The agency employing the inspectors has sent out a memo to council chief executives urging them to divert environmental health experts to abattoirs if there is a strike. The letter, signed by Johnston McNeill, chief executive of the Meat Hygiene Service, emphasised that slaughterhouses must not produce meat for human consumption where there is inadequate cover by agency staff.

Unison is planning one, two and three-day stoppages, which would have a substantial and immediate effect on the amount of fresh meat on supermarket shelves. Unison is urging its members in environmental health departments at councils to ignore the strike-breaking plea from the Government. Some 75 per cent of the inspectors have already voted to reject a 4-per-cent pay offer and registered their readiness to take industrial action.

The stoppages would come at a particularly embarrassing time for ministers. European Commission experts are making spot-checks on abattoirs to police the lifting of the ban on British beef in Europe.

Management has imposed the pay increase on staff, who are insisting on a 5-per-cent rise. Their anger is partly fuelled by the alleged violence and intimidation inflicted on them by slaughterhouse employees keen to keep production going.