Dairy farmers looking to India for workers

Milking parlour on the farm of Gillian and Neil O'Sullivan, Dungarvan Co. Waterford. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Milking parlour on the farm of Gillian and Neil O'Sullivan, Dungarvan Co. Waterford. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Ireland is facing strong competition from New Zealand and Canada for skilled dairy sector workers.

Up to 500 additional staff will be required in the dairy sector over the next three years just to handle the additional 50,000 dairy cows forecast to enter the national herd by 2022.

However, a Mayo-based employment consultant said it was becoming increasingly difficult to secure the services of suitable staff because of the inducements being offered by employment agencies and farms in the Gulf, Canada and New Zealand.

Michael Hunter of Mivian International Ireland said he was approached by a number of dairy farmers to source workers under the pilot work permits scheme earlier this year. He said the first workers from northern India have been placed on Irish farms and are doing very well, but he has a further 15 positions to fill.

Mr Hunter said delays in getting the necessary paperwork in order, and stronger competition for staff from other global farming powers were making it more difficult to get workers.

“They’re offering all different types of incentives: free flights, quicker turnaround on work permits, free visas etc. I recently lost three seriously good skilled guys to Canada as they were not prepared to wait three to four months for work permits,” Mr Hunter explained.

Mr Hunter said that work permits currently take close to 16 weeks to process.

Cork-based farm consultant Mike Brady said a shortage of skilled labour on dairy farms is becoming a major factor restricting growth.

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In May 2018, a pilot scheme of employment permit quotas for dairy farm assistants, horticulture workers and meat processing operatives was put in place.

It included a new minimum payment threshold of €22,000 and obligations on employee welfare, accommodation and language training.

There has also been a strong take-up of the permits by meat processors with 1,339 permits issued from a 1,500 allocation.

However, just 91 permits have been issued from the quota of 500 for the horticulture sector.

The Minister said these quotas were provided following a comprehensive review of data and evidence available and the submission of a business case by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on behalf of the sector. 

The quotas are specific to each occupation mentioned and are not transferable to any other occupation.

Calls have been made for permits to be issued to workers on pig farms. However, the role of Pig Farmer is currently on the Ineligible Occupations List.

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