IFA President Joe Healy has expressed his frustration at the refusal of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) to allow employment permits to be extended for agricultural workers from non-EEA countries, as indicated to IFA in email correspondence this week.
Mr Healy is seeking an urgent meeting with Minister Frances Fitzgerald to seek action on what is now an acute crisis in some sectors.
In a submission to DBEI, IFA had identified the acute shortage of skilled and general agricultural labour supply and proposed employment permits be extended to farm workers from non-EEA countries to meet this need.
In their written response to the IFA the DBEI contended that according to their research ‘agricultural workers were not a shortage occupation’. This view is clearly at odds with the situation on farms, which has led Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to establish a Stakeholder Group on Labour for the dairy sector. “There is clearly severe information and communication deficit on this crucial issue at government level,” Mr Healy said.
The President said, “Farmers compete on international markets, and considering the potential implications of Brexit for Irish agriculture, any restriction on competitiveness will have serious implications for the objectives of Food Wise 2025. Teagasc have identified the need for an additional 6,000 full time employment equivalents for the dairy sector alone.”
IFA National Dairy Committee Chairman Sean O’Leary said solving the farm labour shortage will require more than one solution: “A pilot project run by the Farm Relief Services, Teagasc and the Department of Social Protection has shown that small numbers of candidates can be identified and trained to become dairy farm operatives. However, with a national unemployment rate at 6% and the scale of the identified need for dairy labour including highly skilled dairy farm managers, it is crucial that every avenue to procure suitable workers would be explored, including recruitment outside of the EEA.”
“Minister Creed must ensure his colleague Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Frances Fitzgerald understands fully the need to reconsider her Department’s ill-judged decision on this issue, and I intend to press for this at the Stakeholder Group on Dairy Labour Shortages Minister Creed has established,” he said.
IFA Horticulture Chairman Gerry Reilly said: “The horticulture sector – mushroom and strawberry growers in particular – are suffering an acute labour crisis which DBEI have clearly not recognised. Mushroom growers are at breaking point as they face this crisis along with the fallout from Brexit. The Irish government is expecting Irish mushroom growers to compete on export markets against Polish suppliers who have access to workers from non- EEA countries. All we are looking for is a level playing field.”
Joe Healy concluded, “If Food Wise 2025 is to be delivered on by Irish farmers, our government must act coherently and decisively to solve what is a major crisis for the sector.”