Food processors seek looser visa rules amid staff crunch
Food processors are facing a serious challenge in hiring staff at the lowest general operative level of the employment ladder, and want Government to relax visa rules.
Industry group Food Drink Ireland, part of Ibec, says businesses in the prepared foods sector are struggling to recruit and retain staff.
"The consequences could seriously hinder industry capability and undermine its ability to retain high-end customers and take advantage of much-needed market diversification opportunities," the group said.
The director of prepared consumer foods at Food Drink Ireland, Linda Stuart-Trainor, said some companies are now expressing caution in bidding for contracts or making expansion plans, because they are not confident there will be an adequate supply of labour and skills to deliver on these commitments.
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Citizens from any European Union member state can work in Ireland, and continued rights of UK citizens to work here after Brexit mean the country will have the largest potential pool in Europe.
However, Food Drink Ireland says rising wages and living standards in central and eastern Europe over the past decade mean Ireland is no longer a draw for low-paid workers from these regions.
Food Drink Ireland wants Government to remove food process operatives from a list of occupations ineligible for work permits - including providing an initial allocation of 500 permits for the sector.
It is also seeking a seasonal work permit scheme to assist companies during peak production times.
However, loosening work permit rules would likely be a drag on wages and ultimately inflation, something European Central Bank policymakers are desperately trying to lift.
Other policy responses suggested by Food Drink Ireland include research into automation for the sector, and training and careers development through the National Training Fund, as well as a millennial focus group to better understand how to attract and retain graduates.