LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Hundreds of British meat inspectors have voted to strike in a dispute that threatens to disrupt supplies of turkeys and other meat to shops in the run-up to Christmas, their union said on Friday.
Unison, Britain's biggest public sector union, said members voted by a margin of two to one in favor of industrial action in a row about overtime payments and new working patterns.
Simon Watson, Unison's national officer for meat inspectors, said a strike could lead to shortages during one the busiest periods of the year, a claim denied by the inspectors' bosses.
"Unless the employers abandon their plans and get back around the table to negotiate a settlement, the industry could lose millions of pounds in lost meat production in the run up to Christmas," he said.
Hygiene inspectors say changes to their overtime system have left them up to 100 pounds ($148.40) a week worse off, he added. They are upset over a new 37-hour working week that includes overnight shifts often arranged at short notice.
Unison represents 1,000 inspectors, or 80 percent of the workforce. Its members voted in favor of a strike by 65.7 percent to 34.3 percent. No turnout figure was released.
Union leaders will meet bosses on Monday to try to solve the dispute. A three-day strike is planned for early December. The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), which enforces the law at businesses handling meat, said contingency plans were in place to make sure any strike won't seriously disrupt meat production.
Its Chief Executive Steve McGrath said he thought the two sides could still reach an agreement.
"We have always felt that it would be possible to reach a negotiated settlement which reflected both a fair deal for our staff and a commitment to modernizing the Meat Hygiene Service," he said in a statement.
The British Meat Processors Association estimated that a strike could cost the industry three million pounds.
"An MHS pay rise is probably overdue but the notion of permanently fixed hours and contractual overtime is now all but consigned to employment history," its director Stuart Roberts said in a statement on its website.
A National Farmers Union spokesman said any action would filter through to farmers working on tight deadlines.
"We hope this situation can be resolved as soon as possible to avoid any disruption to the Christmas market and our farmer members who will have invested a great deal of time and effort preparing for it," he said.
Editing by Paul Casciato