Labour shortages a threat to beef sector's growth plans
Brexit and the potential for a trade war between Europe and the US are dominating the economic headlines, but labour shortages could well prove the most immediate threat to our booming economy.
There are thousands of job vacancies across the agricultural sector, and the labour shortage is most acute in the meat processing sector where factories are now looking beyond the EU for workers.
The situation for processors is "urgent and critical", according to Cormac Healy of Meat Industry Ireland (MII).
"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.
Last month, Business Minister Heather Humphreys announced the introduction of a pilot work permit scheme which will make it easier to source workers from outside the EU.
These include 500 permits for the horticulture sector, 250 for the meat sector and 50 for the dairy industry. Companies availing of the work permit scheme must pay a minimum of €22,000 per annum, which equates to a 39-hour week at a €10.85 hourly rate compared to the minimum wage rate of €9.55 per hour.
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.