New Agri-Food Sector Employment Permit Pilot Quota Launched

A new pilot quota of employment permits for the agri-food sector have been welcomed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed.

"This is a measured response to issues raised by the sector as the labour market tightens," Minister Creed said.

He was referring to the announcement today by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, of the granting of a pilot quota of employment permits for the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors.

These sectors have experienced significant value-added and export-orientated growth in recent years, at a time when unemployment in the wider economy has decreased significantly (now below 6%). In parallel with these trends, some EU Member States, which have traditionally been a strong source of labour supply for these sectors, have themselves experienced employment growth, resulting in reduced labour migration. This combination of factors has led to labour shortages.

Minister Creed continued: "The granting of a pilot quota of permits for the meat processing, horticultural and dairy sectors is timely and will go some way towards helping to fill the labour gap. The agri-food sector is a key source of employment, particularly regional and rural based employment, with over 173,000 jobs, or 8.6% of total employment in 2016. However, it is clear that certain parts of the industry have been struggling to fill vacancies for some time now, despite a range of efforts.

"I must emphasise that these permits are only one piece of the jigsaw with regard to labour supply. The agri-food sector, in line with the Food Wise strategy, must value human capital, and put significant effort into attracting, retaining and developing the best people to work in the sector."

The Minister continued: "The sector must also continue and intensify its efforts to source labour from both the domestic and EU labour markets. My Department will work closely with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to assist in these efforts. I am also hopeful that once the state opts into the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive, anticipated to be in June, eligible asylum seekers will have access to employment, including positions in the agri-food sector. This could prove to be another valuable source of labour and I and my officials are in discussions with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in this regard."

Minister of State Andrew Doyle TD said: "The horticulture sector, for which I have responsibility, is a critical component of the agri-economy. However, labour shortages have posed a challenge to horticultural operators running their businesses and I am pleased that Government can help them overcome that impediment with today's announcement."

While the pilot allocation of permits for the dairy farm sector will go some way towards addressing the shortage of labour there, Minister Creed said that a more comprehensive response will be contained in report of the 'People in Dairy Stakeholder Group' which he established. This report is expected in the coming weeks.

In concluding, Minister Creed thanked Minister Humphreys, saying "the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and her officials have worked closely on this issue with officials from my Department for some months now. In parallel, my Department has been participating in the national review of the entire work permit regime and will continue to engage in that process, including the inter-Departmental Group chaired by DBEI. I look forward to its conclusion in the coming months."

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