Darragh McCullough: Heaven and earth moved for dairy men while other sectors struggle on incomes lower than average industrial wage
You've got to take your hat off to the dairy lobby. Every time they squeak about milk price or on-farm problems, heaven and earth is moved to facilitate them.
Polticians convene task forces, Brussels rolls out intervention schemes and farm organisations churn out press releases predicting the end of rural Ireland if something isn't done.
The latest initiative is a scheme designed to address the '6,000' job vacancies on dairy farms, which incidently are set to rake in average profits of €80,000 in 2017.
Meanwhile, pretty much every other farm sector has to be content with average incomes lower than the average industrial wage.
To be fair, first impressions of the scheme may be misleading.
Despite being pitched as a plan to marshal thousands from the dole queues to give dairy farmers a subsidised dig out during the calving season, it turns out this is not the case.
As I understand it, a number of key stakeholders, including Teagasc, Farm Relief Services, the farm organisations, and the Department of Social Protection got together under the guidance of the Southeast Regional Skills Forum to see what could be done about the growing labour shortage in a rapidly expanding dairy sector.
The three groups that they decided to target were drystock farmers, women and 'jobseekers' (that's people on the dole to you and me).
If they could get the message out to this audi ence that there was plenty of part-time or full-time work available locally, with flexible hours from dairy farmers willing to pay up to €15 and €20 per hour to get their cows milked by skilled operatives, the organisers believed that non-traditional pools of labour could be successfully tapped by over-worked dairy farmers.
And for all the other farmers out there worried that this would provide dairy farmers with an unfair competitive advantage in accessing labour, it turns out that people in receipt of welfare payments can earn anywhere up to €8,000 a year working in any sector, farming or otherwise.
The four weeks of training that each participant will receive will set them up nicely for working in most farm situations, but obviously it's going to be tailored to dairying because that's where the need is greatest.
Farm Relief Services, who will be the employer for this project are extremely cagey about what exactly they are going to pay the prospective workers. But they assure me that it will be all be done by the book.
They hope to get about 25 people signed up for this in Kilkenny and Waterford. Given that there are up to 2,000 non-nationals on the dole in that region alone, it shouldn't be too big an ask.
And while the long term goal must be to develop skilled dairy managers to shoulder some of the burden for rapidly aging farmers that have no successors, this is an imaginative and promising first step to tackle the labour issue.
You would assume that there are many who would welcome the chance to earn €300 weekly for 30 hours a week in the spring, especially if they realised that it would be virtually tax-free and have no impact on any of their State payments.
Only time will tell.
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