Employers and unions clash on need for more flexibility on migrant workers
Retraining the Irish workforce is not a viable alternative to inward migration to meet growing labour shortages in the short term, according to employers.
Employers group Ibec said an increasing number of sectors are set for labour shortages during the continuing economic recovery, and said the situation highlighted the need for a flexible system of hiring migrant workers.
Ibec said the combined effects of EU migration and domestic labour market activation schemes are not sufficient to meet the country's rapidly growing demand for workers.
Ibec's head of social policy, Kara McGann, yesterday expressed concern that there was increasing pressure on Ireland's already tight labour market, with peak labour participation rates among 25-54 year-olds and unemployment at 4.8pc.
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The Government spent €1.1bn on labour activation initiatives last year, but there was a need to have "a fully functioning and responsive employment permits system", she told the Oireachtas Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, which is examining proposed legislative changes to employment permits. Ms McGann said she believed they would bring efficiencies to the labour market.
However, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) said there were a number of downsides to relying on labour migration as a policy instrument, including strains it could pose on the housing market.
"This would not be the case if greater effort was put into mobilising existing sources of labour beyond the live register," said Ictu's industrial officer, Peter Rigney.
He also warned opening the visa regime for non-EU migrant workers increased a risk it could be seen as a stratagem to drive down wages.
Ictu also questioned the need for seasonal work visas.