IMPACT representatives and management at the Department of Agriculture are set to meet in Dublin tomorrow to discuss industrial action by more than 600 farming inspectors, which began yesterday morning.

In an update today, the department says it hopes to resolve the dispute “as quickly as possible”. “We will work with Impact within the available industrial relations mechanisms to achieve that outcome,” it added.

Speaking to AgriLand this afternoon, Impact spokesman Bernard Harbor, said the meeting planned for tomorrow must deliver “real engagement”.

“There have been meetings after meeting over the past number of months and they have been fruitless with no movement. The workers need real engagement rather than a repeat meeting on the issues.”

Impact has pointed out that the course of action recommended by the trade union, in terms of settling the current dispute, would actually save the Department of Agriculture money – rather than actual add to current budgets.

It wants its members to be given back a number of inspection roles, now being undertaken by veterinarians and senior management within the department. “However, it is extremely disappointing that there has been no serious dialogue on these matters up to this point,” he added.

The duties of the staff include involved in the current industrial action include inspections of farms, meat factories, dairy processors, marts, mills, laboratories and other facilities.

Their role is central to food safety and compliance with EU and Irish regulations on the production, labelling, sale and export certification of agricultural produce including live animals.

The trade union is accusing department management of shelving an internal review, which shows costs of certain veterinary inspections could be more than halved by allocating the work to agricultural officers. And it says another external review, commissioned by the department and published last August, outlined millions in potential savings that would accrue if technical staff were to undertake post-mortem meat inspections currently done by expensive external contractors.

Currently the industrial action has begun with relatively mild measures aimed at causing administrative inconvenience to management without impacting on farmers or the food industry.

The meeting tomorrow is taking place in the Department of Agriculture’s offices in Dublin.