Industrial action by more than 600 inspectors at the Department of Agriculture is ongoing.

The trade union is calling on staff members to be given back a number of inspection roles now being undertaken by veterinarians and senior management within the department.

According to an IMPACT spokesman, which represents the staff, the trade union is to table a comprehensive list of the issues that provoked industrial action in the agriculture sector following a meeting with Department of Agriculture officials on Wednesday.

He said this will form the basis of a further meeting next week, which could establish whether the department is prepared to engage on the issues and if industrial action is set to escalate.

The duties of the staff 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 also 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.

At the meeting on Wednesday, the union told management it was not prepared to suspend its relatively low-level industrial action at this stage.

Its national secretary Eamonn Donnelly said he had been discouraged by media reports that the department thought the problem centred on access to promotions.

“This indicated to us that there was an understanding deficit going into the meeting. We aim to get over that by tabling a written list of issues. Then we’ll see if the department is interested in exploring the solutions, which could also deliver big savings for taxpayers and the farming community,” he said.

According to the department, it said the meeting was very useful and both parties have a clearer understanding of the issues involved and will meet again next week.

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