Farm Ireland

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Plans to put jobseekers to work on dairy farms a ‘short-term’ solution, warns expert

Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

PLANS to upskill jobseekers to work in the labour-starved dairy sector is a short-term solution to a long-term problem, a leading agricultural consultant has warned.

Mike Brady, of Brady Group Agricultural Consultants, said the Government and farm bodies must target skilled dairy workers outside the EU to ease the sector’s deepening labour crisis.

He was speaking following the announcement of a new pilot training course aimed at attracting jobseekers, drystock farmers and women into dairying in Waterford and Kilkenny.

“In principal to me it is a good idea but in practice will it work?” asked Mr Brady.

“If they live in big towns and cities how are they going to get out on the farms?

“I think the people they are tar­geting at the moment mightn’t be ideal; to me the long-term solution is to go outside the EU.”

He pointed to other big dairying nations that were reliant on work­ers from outside their region such as many Mexicans employed in the US dairy sector or Filipinos that have taken up employment in New Zealand.

Mr Brady urged the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to fast-track work permits for non-EU nationals.

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“There’s loads of potential in Brazil at all level — universities, agricultural colleges and just average farm workers… we should be looking at bringing them over for two years and give them a qualification for when they go back,” he said.

Starting next month the ‘Dairy Operative Skills Programme’ —supported by the Department of Social Protection, Teagasc, the Irish Farmers’ Association, Farm Relief Services and Macra na Feirme Young Farmer Skillnet — will provide interested individuals with a four-week training course on dairy operative skills.

Jobseekers who participate in the part-time training course will retain their usual social welfare payment during the course. All jobseekers who subsequently ob­tain employment in the sector will be subject to means test rules.

Edmond Connolly of the South East Regional Skills Forum said all the stakeholders in the region wanted to take practical steps to address the counties’ acute labour issue on a seasonal basis.

Herd size

The average dairy herd size in Kilkenny is 95 cows, while the average in Waterford is 105 cows.

“We are reaching out to jobseek­ers, drystock farmers and women who might like the opportunity for some additional earnings.

“The primary focus is milking skills to milk cows but as this de­velops, the hope is that candidates would progress, stay in the sector, improve their skills and maybe go from being a milking assistant to being main milker on a large dairy farm. Potentially there could be opportunities to get into herd management,” he said.

Stakeholders are looking to initially attract 20-24 local candi­dates for the course.

Mr Connolly said that if a candidate has no previous farming experience they will be afforded opportunities to progress through further training.

“If someone was working full-time for a four-month period they could earn up to €5,000.

“On a part-time seasonal basis, depending on skills and experi­ence, candidates could earn in the region of €10-€14 an hour,” he said, adding that if successful, the course could be rolled out nationally.

However, Independent TD Mi­chael Fitzmaurice has warned that such plans will rankle with other agri sectors.

“Is dairy the only thing that matters in this country? Do the beef sector, the sheep sector and the contractors doing the work and struggling in parts of the country to get staff not matter anymore?

“Is the country solely driven now by dairy?” he asked.

“I have no problem with getting people back to work but I do believe that all sectors should be treated the same.”

However, Mr Connolly stressed that the dairy sector is not getting preferential treatment.

“There is an acute issue in dair­ying so that is our focus, it’s not a question of picking one sector over the other.

“If this works, the likes of the horticulture sector and tillage and any other sector… we can take the same approach,” he said.

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