In relation to labour shortages in the dairy sector, last November I established a multi stakeholder group with a view to ensuring that Irish dairying has access to the human capital it requires to realise its ambitions. I expect that this Group will finalise an action plan in the coming weeks which will address the short and medium term labour issues facing the dairy sector. This action plan will make an important contribution to alleviating the labour shortage issue that exists and will be submitted to the Food Wise High Level Implementation Committee for information.
In addition to the work of this group, a range of other measures are being pursued by the dairy sector to try to attract and retain labour, including exchanges with New Zealand, enhanced efforts to recruit from within the European economic area, as well as efforts at regional level to engage with, and attract people on the live register, homemakers and drystock farmers to avail of opportunities on dairy farms.
It should be noted that a shortage of labour has been building up in certain sub-sectors of the Irish agri-food sector in recent times. In addition to the dairy sector, labour pressures also exist in the horticultural and meat processing sectors. While the reasons for the shortages are varied, they include the significant value added growth expansion of the sector in recent years; the growth in the economy as a whole which has meant we are now approaching full employment; and also economic and associated employment growth in other EU countries which have traditionally supplied workers for the Irish agri-food sector.
I am aware of the impact that these labour shortages are having, and I am committed to continue helping the sectors involved find appropriate solutions. In this context, I underlined the importance of a new pilot quota of employment permits for the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors, announced this week by my colleague the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. This is a measured response to issues raised by the sector as the labour market tightens.