Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Work Permits Eligibility
I ask the Minister about the process for changes to the work permits system in view of labour shortages in certain sectors. This obviously is a problem linked with recovery. Following on from the work done by this and the previous Government in terms of the Action Plan for Jobs and getting people back into the workplace, we now see these new challenges where sectors are short of necessary skilled workers. Can the Minister outline what steps the Department has taken to date, what sectors it has worked with and what process the sectors which identify a shortage must go through to make a case to the Minister?
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue.
I am very well aware of the skills shortages currently being experienced in some sectors of the economy. The issue is all the more pressing given the strong economic growth being experienced and high demand being placed on a number of sectors to respond to a range of needs across the economy.
Ireland operates a managed employment permits system maximising the benefits of economic migration and minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland's labour market. The system is intended to act as a conduit for key skills which are required to develop enterprise in the State for the benefit of our economy, while simultaneously protecting the balance of the labour market.
It is important to consider that while we are moving towards full employment with 5.4% unemployment, we still have 194,700 people in Ireland and 15.9 million in the EU who are unemployed.
The system is, by design, vacancy led and driven by the changing needs of the labour market, expanding and contracting in tandem with its inherent fluctuations. Only where specific skills prove difficult to source within the State and wider EEA may an employment permit be sought by an employer to hire a non-EEA national. In order to ensure that the employment permits schemes are responsive to changes in economic circumstances and labour market conditions, the system is managed through the operation of the critical skills occupations list and the ineligible occupations list for the purpose of granting an employment permit.
These lists are subject to twice-yearly evidence based review which involves consideration of the research and analysis undertaken by the skills and labour market research unit of SOLAS, the expert group on future skills needs, the National Skills Council and input by relevant Departments in addition to a public consultation process. Submissions to the review process are also considered by the economic migration policy interdepartmental group chaired by my Department and with membership drawn from senior officials of key Departments and SOLAS.
The report, Review of Economic Migration Policy, which I published last September, included the recommendation that in order to make changes to the occupation lists, there would need to be a clear demonstration that recruitment difficulties are solely due to shortages across the EEA and not to other factors, such as salary and-or employment conditions.
Recent changes to the occupations lists include removing a number of occupations in construction and road haulage from the ineligible list and moving a number of occupations in construction and high-performance sports to the critical skills occupation list. These changes were made in response to the needs of sectors in addressing real labour shortages.
I thank the Minister for her response and acknowledge the changes, particularly in the construction and road haulage sectors, areas that are critical in logistics to the broader roll-out of business around the country.
I raise with the Minister another area where there is a significant skills shortage, namely, the breeding and the training sectors in the equine industry and it is the very specific role of skilled work-riders. The equine industry is worth close to €2 billion to the overall economy. It provides 16,000 jobs throughout the length and breadth of this country, many of which are in rural areas where there is not any alternative.
Through Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, I am aware the industry is making a strong case through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to be moved off the ineligible list in light of the difficulty in accessing work-riders across the EU. When one considers the spin-off jobs from the equine industry, including veterinary, horse laundries, transportation, grooms and stable hands, which as I said, are spread throughout the country, it is a key area on which I hope we can see progress. Can the Minister outline when the Department will next look at a new round of sectors or when sectors will have an opportunity to apply again?
I thank the Deputy who has raised this matter on a number of occasions. Work-riders are currently not eligible for employment permits. A submission was made by Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association to the most recent review of the occupation list and this was considered on the available evidence.
The horse racing industry is recognised as a significant economic sporting sector. Evidence suggests that there are good efforts in the industry to provide training and career progression opportunities in this employment. It is acknowledged that the unique physical criteria applying to individuals in this role may be challenging to source within the EEA. However, there is currently insufficient data available on this occupation to suggest shortages. Based on the evidence available, no change was proposed for this occupation at this time. However, it is proposed that the sector provide more information, in particular, detailed evidence of efforts to recruit from within the EEA, for consideration during the next review. This could include, for example, evidence of engagement with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the European Employment Services - the other employment network.
In order to have an occupation considered for either being added to the critical skills list or being removed from the ineligible list, there would need to be clear demonstration that recruitment difficulties are solely due to shortages across the EEA and not to other factors such as salary and-or employment conditions. The views of the lead policy Department for the sector, in this case, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, are an important part of the decision-making process and I recommend engagement with the Department in advance of any further action.
I accept the Minister's response. I am aware that HRI continues to engage through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to provide that additional necessary data. The key word in the Minister's response when she referenced the racing and breeding sectors was "industry". That is what it is. I acknowledge it is a sport, but it is a sport that employs a great many people and is worth a considerable amount to the rural economy in terms of economic turnover. That is why this skills-specific shortage is a key element. I completely accept the Minister's point. It has to be where there is that clear demonstrable shortage. No doubt the industry will prove that point in the future.
In general, I welcome the role the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation plays. I understand the balance involved in making sure that while we still have people who are unemployment, there is not any displacement but when one looks at the sectors the Department has dealt with already, such as construction, there is clear evidence that we need to get workers in. Where we get people in, including into the road haulage sector and, hopefully, work-riders in the future, they can help to sustain and to improve existing jobs in those areas.
The important point is that the sector needs to show it cannot get the workers in Ireland and in Europe and make the case to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I assure the Deputy that when that case is made, we will not be found wanting in terms of reviewing it positively.
The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, was in Deputy Heydon's county today where he announced 80 jobs in Open Sky, an IT solutions company, in Naas. It is a innovative company. It actually supplies the software to the work permits section of my Department.
The current processing time for employment permits is three weeks for trusted partner applications, which made up 71% of all applications in 2018, and 11 weeks for standard applications, which made up 29% of applications in 2019.