The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys 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 include 100 additional permits for Dairy Farm Assistants, following the introduction of a pilot scheme for the occupation in May 2018, and 300 work permits for Meat Deboners. The allocation for the dairy sector represents a doubling of the initial 50 permits announced by the Minister last year.
With the end of milk quotas in 2015, the Irish milk production sector has been growing substantially and the value of Irish dairy exports has risen by 78% since 2010. The sector estimates that over €2.5bn of investment has been made on farms to increase capacity and improve environmental and animal welfare programmes and in excess of €1bn has been spent by dairy processors to increase capacity, add value and diversity the national product mix.
The industry predicts that the requirement for labour on dairy farms will increase by some 700 full-time positions per annum over the next 7 years.
The extended pilot scheme includes a minimum remuneration threshold of €22,000 with specific obligations for employers in relation to the welfare and prospects of foreign nationals employed under the scheme, including ensuring access to suitable accommodation and to training including language training.
A new quota of 300 employment permits for meat deboners, with a minimum remuneration threshold of €27,500, has also been approved. This is being introduced following consideration of the submission by the industry of a business case citing the continuing difficulties experienced by employers in the sector to source labour resources, despite their investment in training programmes and recruitment drives both nationally and across the EEA.
The employment permit system offers an interim solution for employers where specific skills prove difficult to source within the EEA.
Speaking this week, Minister Humphreys said, "It is imperative that the system remains correctly positioned to meet the State’s emerging labour market needs, be they labour or skills shortages. The introduction of a quota is to ensure that in the longer-term actions are taken to put in place strategies to source labour supply from both the domestic and European labour markets and to invest in innovative technologies for the sector."