Farm Ireland

Monday 21 January 2019

Additional work permits granted for non-EU meat processing workers announced due to 'critical' shortage

Workers must be paid at least €22,000 per annum

Stock image / Getty Images
Stock image / Getty Images
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, has today signed off on further changes to Employment Permit Regulations, which will make it easier for the meat processing sector to source workers from outside the EEA.

The changes provide for the provision of 500 permits for meat processor operatives in addition to the 250 announced in May 2018.

Earlier this year, Minister Humphreys signed off on changes to the employment permit regulations to establish a pilot quota based scheme to address the immediate needs of the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors.

She applied a quota of 500 permits for horticulture workers, 250 meat processing operatives and 50 for dairy farm assistants.

A remuneration threshold of €22,000 was introduced for these occupations, with employers obliged to ensure access to suitable accommodation and training, including language training.

There has been a particularly strong demand from the meat processing sector with all of the initial allocation of 250 employment permits for meat processing operatives set to be exhausted in the coming weeks.

Minister Humphreys decided to extend the pilot scheme for meat processing operatives, following consideration of an evidenced based submission from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The situation for processors had been described as "urgent and critical", according to Cormac Healy of Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

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"Companies are facing critical shortages. It's a very labour-intensive industry, and when there's a shortage of labour it could undermine our ability to supply new markets and the growth of the industry," said Mr Healy.

In making today’s announcement Minister Humphreys said the extension of the pilot scheme for meat processing operatives will ensure that the sectors immediate labour difficulties are addressed and the potential that a lack of available labour could constrict growth is minimised.

While agriculture stakeholder groups have largely welcomed the introduction of the scheme, SIPTU claims the scheme is a reflection of poor pay and conditions in the meat processing sector.

"There wouldn't be a requirement for additional work permits if the terms and conditions meat industry employers offered were improved," SIPTU's agriculture sector organiser Mick Browne told the Farming Independent.

"Our view is that the terms and conditions are so poor that meat processors won't attract new people in to the industry here."

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