Hundreds of veterinary inspector positions for Brexit being filled at ‘a trickle’
Veterinary Officers Association has raised concerns over jobs alongside separate dispute over recruitment and mobility practices
Last July the Cabinet agreed to hire 700 additional customs officials and 300 extra staff to carry out checks on agricultural produce and animals travelling between Ireland and the UK. Photograph: Getty Images
Hundreds of new veterinary inspector positions promised as part of Brexit preparations are being filled at “a trickle” just weeks away from the UK’s expected departure, the organisation representing the profession has claimed.
The Veterinary Officers Association (VOA) said it has become “increasingly alarmed with the [Department of Agriculture’s] response to the impending crisis”.
Patrick Holmes, association president, told The Irish Times:”They are not happening...the clock is running down.”
Last July the Cabinet agreed to hire 700 additional customs officials and 300 extra staff to carry out checks on agricultural produce and animals travelling between Ireland and the UK.
The VOA represents full-time veterinarians responsible for ensuring EU rules on food standards and animal safety and welfare are met. It has raised its concerns around the Brexit-related jobs alongside a separate internal dispute with the department over staff recruitment and mobility practices.
A number of veterinary management posts, one of which has remained unfilled for seven years, are due to be filled. However, in managing the process the department has been accused by the association of scrapping a 20-year-old mechanism through which the appointment process had previously worked.
According to Mr Holmes, the previous arrangement would have allowed senior veterinary staff to transfer into the new roles. The department has indicated its intention to appoint less experienced staff from a panel instead. The VOA called it an “unwarranted and hostile management action”.
Mobility amongst senior superintendent level staff between laboratory work and the area of food safety and animal welfare inspections is now said to be under threat.
The VOA said its members had agreed last year to enter a process of arbitration with department officials to address the issue but it had now been “escalated” by the department’s actions, the association said.
Its executive will meet in the coming days to consider its response, which could prompt anything up to and including industrial action.
Mr Holmes said the organisation would be guided by its membership.
In response, the department said the issues raised by the VOA referred to transfer arrangements whereby posts were filled on the basis of seniority.
However, it said the decision to fill six specific vacancies at the centre of the dispute was “unrelated to any decision on the number of additional veterinary staff that will be required in the event of a disorderly exit from the EU by the UK”.
In a statement, the department said it and the VOA had been unable to reach agreement on proposals to designate a small number of “critical senior management positions”.
“Given the uncertainties that have arisen in relation to Brexit, and the risks to Irish agriculture that Brexit poses, the department deemed it necessary to accelerate these appointments by designating the posts in question and filling them from existing promotion panels.
“The department remains committed to the resolution of the substantive issue in dispute going forward through the agreed dispute resolution mechanisms.”