50 pilot work permits for dairy sector ‘a very small first step’

Plans to issue 50 permits to workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to work on dairy farms is a “very small first step” to alleviating labour shortage problems, the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) has warned.

The comments follow today’s announcement from the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys on the establishment of a new pilot scheme to address labour shortages in the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors.

The minister signed off on the changes to the Employment Permit Regulations today which is aimed at making it easier for certain businesses in the agri-food sector to source workers from outside the EEA.

The changes, which will operate on a pilot basis initially, include 500 permits for the horticulture sector, 250 for the meat industry and 50 for the dairy sector.

While welcoming the decision, Pat McCormack, the president of the ICMSA, said: “It was a very small step on a matter that needs serious attention if we are to ensure the sustainable development of the Irish dairy sector going forward.

“Meeting members across the country, there is a growing realisation among farmers, that the workload on farms – particularly in the spring period – has reached an unsustainable level.

Unless we develop a network of skilled operatives across the country to deal with this workload at critical times of the year, many farmers will simply not be able to continue with their current level of farming.

“Farmers are in an extremely difficult position, where cow numbers have increased in order to generate a reasonable income; but the workload has also increased considerably,” he warned.

Timeline and framework

Meanwhile, Joe Healy, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said it is important that Minister Humphreys provides timeline and framework for the operational review of the pilot scheme.

“I am glad to read that where sectors put in place strategies to source and retain labour from the domestic and European labour markets – and where they invest in innovative technologies – the minister would be open to granting additional permit quotas. It will be important to define the conditions in which this might be achieved.

“We now need clarity to be provided urgently as to how individual farmer employers can apply for these permits, and the time framework within which the pilot will be reviewed, and hopefully amended if necessary and extended as required,” he concluded.