Processors jump for migrant workers – while dairy lags behind

Meat processors have wasted no time in applying for workers from non-EEA (European Economic Area) countries under the pilot scheme implemented this year – but dairy farmers and horticultural enterprises are in no rush, going by early figures.

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the earliest date that applications under the new regulations could be made was Monday, June 4.

This was due to the legislative requirement to advertise vacancies within Ireland and across the EU for a minimum period of two weeks.

Since June 4, approximately 315 applications for employment permits for meat processing operatives have been received – some 65 workers over the allotted number.

On the other end of the scale, only four applications have been made for dairy farm assistants – while just a single application has been made for a horticultural worker.

These applications are currently being processed, the spokesperson added.

The statistical breakdown could potentially be put down to the seasonal nature of the dairy and horticulture sectors.

Pilot scheme

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, announced changes to the Employment Permit Regulations – on a pilot basis – in order to make it easier for certain businesses in the agri-food sector to source workers from outside the EEA.

The pilot scheme, which is in place since May 21, 2018, allows for:
  • The temporary removal of such workers from the ineligible list for employment permits;
  • Capped at 500 General Employment Permits for horticulture workers, 250 for meat processor operatives and 50 for dairy farm assistants;
  • Includes a commitment by employers that the permit holder has access to suitable accommodation, and training, including language training;
  • Set at a minimum remuneration threshold of €22,000 for a General Employment Permit for this cohort of migrant workers.

This scheme is the sole mechanism currently in place to facilitate the employment of migrant agricultural workers on General Employment Permits.

It is intended to address immediate labour shortages in the horticulture, dairy farm and meat processing sectors on an interim basis.

Additional permit quotas may be granted in response to actions taken by the sector to put in place strategies to source and retain labour supply from both the domestic and European labour markets and to invest in innovative technologies for the sector, according to the department.