Agriculture dispute is referred to Labour Relations Commission

IMPACT has agreed to suspend industrial action by more than 600 Department of Agriculture technical staff from next week, after management agreed to enter a Labour Relations Commission-assisted process to address a comprehensive list of issues tabled by the union.

The union said industrial action, which began on Monday 20 January, will resume if the issues are not resolved.

IMPACT national secretary Eamonn Donnelly said the union had held two meetings with management and he believed the department now clearly understood the issues and was “prepared to deal with them all in a serious way”.

The issues raised by IMPACT include staffing levels and the department’s failure to implement reports that would generate savings by optimising the skills and resources of agricultural officer grades. According to the trade union, the LRC process will also address the grading structure, developing meaningful roles for agriculture officers, the need for a “changed culture towards technical staff and a rebuilding of trust in the collapsed industrial relations system,” and a range of other industrial relations issues.

Donnelly said the union would be contacting its members early next week to outline the developments that led to the suspension of action and explain the next steps.

IMPACT says the workers have fully co-operated with extensive reforms, including the closure of 42 local offices, down from 58 to 16, which have delivered €30 million in savings. Their dispute centres on management’s subsequent failure to sustain and expand their duties in line with independent reports – commissioned by the department – which say further substantial savings could be delivered if technical staff took on some of the inspection duties currently allocated to higher paid civil servants and expensive external contractors. The union says management’s failure to implement the reforms costs taxpayers and farming communities millions of euro, while putting technical jobs at risk.

The staff are 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.