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Minister Humphreys announces pilot scheme to address labour shortages in the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors

Minister announces pilot, quota-based scheme to address immediate labour shortages in the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors

Quota of 500 permits granted for horticulture workers, 250 for meat processing operatives and 50 for dairy farm assistants from outside the EEA

Review group to report to the Minister by late June on overall employment permits system to ensure it remains fit for purpose in a changing environment

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, has today signed off on changes to Employment Permit Regulations, which will make it easier for certain businesses in the agri-food sector to source workers from outside the EEA. The changes, which will operate on a pilot basis initially, include 500 permits for the horticulture sector, 250 for the meat industry and 50 for the dairy sector.

Minister Humphreys said: “As we approach full employment, labour shortages at the lower-skilled end of the jobs market are becoming apparent in some sectors. This has the potential to constrict growth if these needs are not met. Parts of the agri-food sector are particularly affected in the immediate term.”

Earlier this year, the Minister asked her Department to review the economic migration policies underpinning the current employment permits system.  The purpose of the review is to ensure that our current policies are fully supportive of Ireland’s emerging labour market needs, be they critical skills needs or labour shortages for lower-skilled, lower-waged workers. The ongoing review is being overseen by an Interdepartmental Group, chaired by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.  A report is due to be presented to the Minister by the end of June 2018. 

Announcing today’s changes, which come in advance of the review group’s final report, Minister Humphreys said:

“The review of our employment permits regime is timely and I am happy with progress to date.  However, I am acutely aware of the particular challenges facing parts of the agri-food sector.  The sector employs about 173,000 people across the regions, contributes almost 8% to gross national income, and currently has exports worth almost €13.5bn. It is our most important indigenous sector and its reach into rural Ireland brings jobs and value to every region. For this reason, I asked the review group, in advance of completing the full review, to prioritise the emerging labour shortages in the sector in its deliberations.”

Today’s announcement is a first step in addressing some of the challenges facing the sector.  The changes allow for a pilot, quota-based system that will address the immediate needs of the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors.

Minister Humphreys elaborated:

“This is a departure from our current employment permits regime, which has generally focused on critical skills gaps at the higher end of the labour market as we position Ireland for further growth in the knowledge economy.  Like many developed countries, however, we are now seeing pressures at the lower-skilled end of the market. In seeking to deal with these pressures, I am also conscious that any changes introduced must not disrupt the domestic labour market.”

The review group, taking a cross-sectoral approach, accepts there is evidence of an increasingly challenging environment to recruit and retain staff. The Government Strategy, Food Wise 2025, has also identified ambitious and challenging growth projections for the agri-food sector.

The Minister continued:

“I have decided to introduce a temporary scheme to alleviate the immediate difficulties that companies in the sector are experiencing. This scheme will allow workers in the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors from non-EEA countries to access the labour market.

“I am applying a quota of 500 permits for horticulture workers, 250 for meat processing operatives and 50 for dairy farm assistants. This is to ensure that in the longer-term, strategies are put in place to source labour supply from both the domestic and European labour markets and to invest in innovative technologies for the sector.  A new minimum remuneration threshold of €22,000 is being introduced for these occupations. Furthermore, there will be specific obligations on the employers around the welfare and prospects of the foreign nationals employed. This includes ensuring they have access to suitable accommodation and to training in areas such as language skills.”

Specifically, in relation to the dairy sector Minister Humphreys said:

“I am aware that an increased demand for on-farm workers in the dairy sector has been compounded by the challenging winter and spring weather. I am also aware that my colleague Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, has established a ‘People in the Dairy Sector Stakeholder Group’ to consider the short and long-term labour needs on dairy farms. I understand that an action plan will be published in the coming weeks.” 

The Minister expects the report of the Inter-Departmental review group, due this summer, to recommend a strategy for economic migration to meet the State’s changing labour needs into the future. Included in this will be the medium and longer term labour requirements in the agri-food sector.

ENDs

Note for the Editor

Background

The Irish State’s general policy is to promote the sourcing of labour and skills needs from within the workforce of Ireland, the European Union and other EEA states.  Policy in relation to applications for employment permits remains focused on facilitating the recruitment from outside the EEA of highly skilled personnel, where the requisite skills cannot be met by normal recruitment or by training. Employment permit policy is part of the response to addressing skills deficits which exist and are likely to continue into the medium term, but it is not intended over the longer term to act as a substitute for meeting the challenge of up-skilling the State’s resident workforce, with an emphasis on the process of lifelong learning, and on maximising the potential of EEA nationals to fill our skills deficits.

The employment permits system is managed in part through the operation of the highly skilled and ineligible lists for the purpose of grant of employment permits. 

  • Highly skilled jobs are professional positions in medicine, ICT, sciences, finance and business. Special “fast-track” rules apply e.g. family can join the permit holder immediately, permanent residency in available after two years.
  • Ineligible jobs are generally lower skilled occupations eg home care and hospitality. There is evidence that there are more than enough Irish/EEA workers to fill such vacancies.
  • Every other job in the labour market, where an employer cannot find a worker, may be eligible for an employment permit.  The employer has to do a Labour Market Needs Test (i.e. advertise the job for two weeks). If no-one suitable applies for the job, the employer is free to apply for an employment permit.

 

Review of the policies underpinning the employment permit regime

Recognising the changed economy and labour market, the Department is undertaking a review of the economic migration policies underpinning the current employment permits system.  The purpose of the review is to ensure that our current policies are fully supportive of Ireland’s emerging labour market needs, be they skills or labour shortages in certain sectors. The review is being overseen by an Interdepartmental Group (IDG), chaired by DBEI, and includes a public and stakeholder consultation, as well as an EU and international benchmarking exercise.  A report is due to be submitted to the Minister by then end of June.

Temporary Scheme for the horticulture workers, meat processor operatives and dairy farm assistants

The Minister asked that the Review Group prioritise the emerging labour shortages being experienced in the agri-sector, in particular the requirement for low skilled, low wage workers in the meat processing, horticulture and dairy sub-sectors.

In response having explored all the factors arising on an inter-Departmental basis, the following scheme is being introduced:

  • the temporary removal of horticulture worker, dairy farm assistant and meat processor operative from the ineligible list for employment permits;
  • a quota of 500 General Employment Permits for horticulture workers, 250 for meat processor operatives and 50 for dairy farm assistants;
  • a commitment by employers that the permit holder has access to suitable accommodation, and training, including language training;
  • a minimum remuneration threshold of €22,000 for a General Employment Permit for this cohort of migrant workers.

 

Additional permit quotas may be granted in response to actions taken by the sector to put in place strategies to source and retain labour supply from both the domestic and European labour markets and to invest in innovative technologies for the sector.

This scheme for the agri-sector can be facilitated within the existing primary legislative framework, although an amendment to the Employment Permit Regulations 2017 is required. Regulations to amend the Employment Permit Regulations 2017 are being finalised at present. The changes will come into effect from Monday, 21st May 2018.

Labour issues in the Dairy Sector

A number of initiatives in the Dairy sector are being pursued to address the variety of labour issues that exist in the sector. These includes the establishment of a ‘People in the Dairy Sector Stakeholder Group’ by Minister Creed to address the short and long term human capital needs on dairy farms, an action plan will be published in the coming weeks. The Department is represented on the People in the Dairy Sector Stakeholder Group and has   been working to identify how economic migration can form part of the strategy to address the labour needs of the sector.

Employment Permits Statistics

11,354 employment permits issued in 2017 representing a 21% increase compared with the 9,383 permits which issued in 2016. This trend has continued in 2018, with 3,536 issuing to the end of April, a 19% increase over the same period in 2017 at 2,966.   

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