The Impact trade union is giving management within the Department of Agriculture a week to meet with its representatives, before it steps up the industrial action, commenced earlier today by 600 inspectors.

“Our action to date has in no way impacted on the farming and food industries,” confirmed Impact spokesman Bernard Harbour.

“And this, in reality, is the last thing that we want to do. Prior to Christmas we met with industrial relations representatives from the department. But no real engagement took place. As a consequence, we had no option but to decide on some form of industrial action.“

Harbour went on to point 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.

“In essence we want our 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.”

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.

Meanwhile, ICSA Ireland, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, has said it is “extremely concerned at potential disruption to payments for farmers”.

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin said he was also concerned that beef, sheep and pigmeat exports may also be affected if the industrial action escalates. He is urging both sides to come to an agreement as soon as possible.

The ICMSA and the Irish Farmers Association declined to comment on the industrial action.

Meanwhile, top-level management meetings are under way in the Department of Agriculture in a bid to resolve the dispute and an update is expected later this evening.

Related: Strike by 600 agriculture inspectors set to escalate