News & Events

Minister Humphreys announces extension of pilot scheme to address labour shortages in the meat processing sector

  • Minister announces extension of the existing pilot, quota-based scheme to address immediate labour shortages in the meat processing sector

  • An additional quota of 500 permits granted for meat processing operatives in addition to the 250 permits granted earlier this year


The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, has today signed off on further changes to Employment Permit Regulations, which will make it easier for the meat processing sector to source workers from outside the EEA. The changes provide for the provision of 500 permits for meat processor operatives in addition to the 250 announced in May 2018.

Earlier this year, Minister Humphreys signed off on changes to the employment permit regulations to establish a pilot quota based scheme to address the immediate needs of the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors. She applied a quota of 500 permits for horticulture workers, 250 meat processing operatives and 50 for dairy farm assistants. A remuneration threshold of €22,000 was introduced for these occupations, with employers obliged to ensure access to suitable accommodation and training, including language training.

There has been a particularly strong demand from the meat processing sector with all of the initial allocation of 250 employment permits for meat processing operatives set to be exhausted in the coming weeks. Minister Humphreys decided to extend the pilot scheme for meat processing operatives, following consideration of an evidenced based submission from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

In making today’s announcement Minister Humphreys said:

“The extension of the pilot scheme for meat processing operatives will ensure that the sectors immediate labour difficulties are addressed and the potential that a lack of available labour could constrict growth is minimised.

“The agri-food sector is our most important indigenous sector, employing some 173,000 people and contributing almost 8% to gross national income. Its reach into rural Ireland brings jobs and value to every region. With the opening up of new markets such as to China, it is critical that there are adequate numbers of trained staff to meet the demands of this highly lucrative market for Irish meat exports.”

“I continue to be conscious that any changes to the employment permit regime must not disrupt the domestic labour market. In the longer-term sectors experiencing labour shortages need to take action to attract and retain labour supply from within Ireland and across Europe and to invest in innovative technologies for the sector”

The report of the review of economic migration policies underpinning the employment permit system has just been submitted to Minister Humphreys. The purpose of the review is to ensure that our current policies are fully supportive of Ireland’s emerging labour market needs. The review, which was overseen by an interdepartmental group, makes recommendations for a strategy for economic migration to meet the State’s changing needs into the future. Following consideration by the Minister, it is expected that the review report will be published.

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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 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 where 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, Minister Humphreys requested her officials to undertake 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 was overseen by an Interdepartmental Group (IDG), chaired by DBEI, and included a public and stakeholder consultation, as well as an EU and international benchmarking exercise. A report has just been submitted to the Minister. Following consideration of the report by the Minister, it is expected that it will be published.

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 was introduced in May 2018:

  • 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.

Due to strong demand, the initial allocation of 250 permits for the meat processing operatives is set to be exhausted in the coming weeks. Following consideration of an evidenced based submission from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, an additional allocation of 500 permits has been granted to 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. To date in 2018, 7,049 permits have issued to the end of July.  

About DBEI

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) plays a key role in implementing the Government’s policies of stimulating the productive capacity of the economy and creating an environment which supports job creation and maintenance. The Department also has a remit to promote fair competition in the marketplace, protect consumers and safeguard workers.

For further information please contact Press Office, D/Business, Enterprise and Innovation, press.office@dbei.gov.ie or (01) 631-2200

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