Strike-hit meat plant remains open in spite of closure threat
It was business as usual at Omagh Meats yesterday despite a warning from management that it would close the factory if strike action by a third of the staff continued.
Around 70 of the 230 staff have been on strike at the meat factory since Friday due to a long-running dispute over the restructuring of a number of departments at the plant.
Foyle Food Group, which owns Omagh Meats, sent correspondence last week to union representatives at Unite warning that if there was industrial action, all remaining staff not on strike would be laid off yesterday.
Gareth Scott of Unite described this as a "dirty tricks tactic" to cause division among the employees.
"Workers have been told they will be provided with work the rest of this week," he said.
"Our position hasn't changed. The strike is continuing. We would call on the employer to engage with the Labour Relations Agency but the employer has declined that suggestion at this stage."
There was no sign of strike action yesterday, particularly as there was no picket line at the factory. There appeared to be plenty of activity at the site off the Doogary Road, a couple of miles outside Omagh. Lorries drove in and out, while the car park was filled with staff cars.
The strike action has mainly affected workers on the 'kill line' as one 26-year-old worker from Omagh explained: "I work in the boning hall but the dispute is with workers on the kill line. I'm a member of Unite but it is business as usual for us, though nobody tells us anything.
"I've worked here three years and it would definitely be a problem if I was laid off. There are not many jobs around Omagh these days."
A cattle supplier said he had delivered stock to the factory just last week and said he had not been informed the plant might close.
"It doesn't look like a place that's closing down," he said.
"I think it's business as usual."
Around Omagh town people were concerned about losing jobs at the factory especially in the wake of job losses elsewhere.
"I hope they don't close the factory," said pensioner Mary Livingstone.
"The shirt factory, Desmonds, closed and we've lost jobs at the hospital. Omagh has got bigger and yet the work has got scarcer."
John Quinn criticised managers at Omagh Meats for "cutting their noses off to spite their faces".
"They are going to be firing workers whether they are on strike or not," he said.
"A large proportion of the workers are foreign nationals who work for less and will do jobs that local people think aren't good enough."
Alison McGrath, who works at an opticians in Omagh, said if the factory closes it will have a big impact on the town.
"It is still one of the biggest employers here," she said.
SDLP West Tyrone MLA Joe Byrne has urged both trade unions and the management of Omagh Meats to work together to defuse problems.
"It employs 230 workers in the Omagh area and is crucial to the local economy that it remains an effective and productive plant," he said.
"Omagh Meats has been a good employer to many workers here and provides a good outlet for local farmers."
Established in 1965, Omagh Meats' slaughtering facility has the capacity to process over 2,000 cattle per week.
The current dispute concerns changes to factory lines, staffing levels and work structures which have left staff upset about the possible negative effect on their working hours, workload and pay.
According to the company website, the site has the capacity to blast freeze and store 2,000 tonnes of frozen product and 1,000 tonnes of fresh vacuum-packed product.