FOOD EXPORTS AND payments to farmers could be hit if industrial action at the Department of Agriculture escalates, public sector trade union IMPACT has said.
Action at the department begins today with over 600 technical staff planning to cause ‘administrative inconvenience to management’, and is not designed to affect farmers straight away.
However, IMPACT says that if the dispute is not resolved soon, it could affect grant payments to farmers in February and March.
Workers are undertaking the industrial action following a ‘failure’ by the department to allow lower paid technical staff to carry out farm inspections currently carried out by higher paid civil servants and contractors.
IMPACT says that this was recommended by independent reports, and that workers previously co-operated various reforms in the department, such as the reduction of local offices from 58 to 16.
The union believes allowing the staff involved to carry out inspections could save millions of euro.
The workers striking are also involved in the area of food safety and compliance.
IMPACT national secretary Eamonn Donnelly said the union is willing to engage in talks if management meets the industrial action “serious engagement”.
“The agriculture department has effectively collapsed the industrial relations process at a time when agricultural officer duties are diminishing because of rationalisation and reforms,” he said.
“Meanwhile, management persists in transferring their duties to higher paid civil servants and unnecessarily allocating inspection work to expensive external contractors.”