I propose to take Questions Nos. 383 and 409 together.
Labour supply issues have arisen in various parts of the agri-food sector, but they have been most pronounced in the meat processing sector and on-farm horticulture and dairy sectors. While some potential exists to recruit labour from within the domestic and European labour markets, it became apparent in recent times that this would be insufficient to meet the demand and therefore, I and my officials worked with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, and her Department to introduce a pilot quota of employment permits for non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals for these three sub-sectors. So far, 750 permits have been allocated to meat processing, and of these, 448 have been issued (as of 05/10/18). Given the level of demand, it is anticipated that the full allocation will be used in the near future. A remuneration threshold of €22,000 was introduced for these permits, with employers obliged to ensure access to suitable accommodation and training, including language training.
I said at the time of the announcement of these permits that they were just one piece of the jigsaw in addressing labour supply and that the sector must also continue to intensify its efforts to source labour from both the domestic and EU markets. In this regard, my officials have worked closely with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) to assist in these efforts. In May 2018, that Department hosted an information session with representatives from across the agri-food sector, including representatives from the meat processing sector, as well as officials from my Department, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) and the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). This meeting provided information to the sectoral representatives on the range of employment initiatives and supports that DEASP can provide, from ‘Intreo’ to ‘EURES’ and more, while officials from DBEI and the WRC explained the employment permits system and obligations and responsibilities of employers. I understand the DEASP have continued and intensified their engagement with the agri-food sector since then, including the meat processing sector, with a range of different interactions including:
- Meetings with the meat, horticulture, pigs, poultry, forestry and horse racing employers and representative bodies.
- Job recruitment fairs, events, and course recruitment
- Future and ongoing recruitment campaigns both in Ireland and across Europe (EURES).
A further meeting was held in July with a range of industry bodies and individual employers (including the meat processing sector) to go through these initiatives and others in greater detail. The DEASP also held a dedicated information meeting with representatives of the meat industry and individual employers. Finally, I understand that DEASP officials have also had extensive engagement on a one-to-one basis with employers across the country.