The agri-food sector can be labour intensive, producing, processing and distributing food requires the work and expertise of many different people in many different roles. In addition, the demand for labour is often seasonal. Tackling labour shortages requires a multi-faceted approach and all parts of the sector need to plan their labour requirements.
Where shortages occur, employers can avail of the services of the Department of Social Protection (DSP), namely Intreo and EURES. My Department, along with Teagasc and the IFA, worked with DSP last year on the ‘Help2Harvest’ campaign to fill vacancies on horticulture farms and I am glad to see that this collaboration has continued this year.
A dedicated Help2Harvest 2021 online jobs fair takes place on 22nd April. The #Help2Harvest2021 Jobs Day aims to assist employers to recruit jobseekers for seasonal and permanent horticultural roles in Ireland. The platform being used for the event is provided by the European Commission, as part of the EURES social mobility programme, and will be targeted at Irish and European job seekers. In relation to dairy farm labour, the People in Dairy Action Plan set out six key areas for action to improve the attraction and retention of labour. I am informed that Teagasc have recently allocated additional resources to drive the implementation of the actions in that report. A further key area that the agriculture sector must continue to investigate is the role of automation and new equipment and technology and I note that this features prominently in the draft Agri-Food Strategy 2030, currently out for public consultation. I know that the pilot employment permit scheme introduced in 2018 for some parts of the agri-food sector was also an important tool for filling labour shortages. However, while there are high levels of unemployed people seeking work both here at home and across the European Economic Area as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this option is not viable. Employment permits are only considered when all other potential sources of labour have been shown to be unsuccessful.