Wednesday, 13 December 2017
Work Permit Applications
Tá fáilte romhat, a Aire. I welcome the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to the House.
I call Senator Maria Byrne and she has four minutes. Many of her colleagues could follow her example because she is usually time efficient and to the point.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I welcome the Minister to the House this morning. I wish to congratulate her publicly on her new role in which I know she will excel. Given that Limerick has the fastest growing economy outside of Dublin, I look forward to welcoming her to Limerick and the region in the future.
Today, I wish to raise the issue of the critical skills employment permit. On the one hand, as education spokesperson I know people go to college and upskill. On the other hand, employers say there is a shortage of people for certain skills. I give the two examples of chefs and hotel managers. Some people who have a small business approached me and told me that they got no response to an advertisement that they placed in The Irish Timesand displayed in one of their windows seeking a chef. The shortage of chefs has been acknowledged across the board and the Restaurant Association of Ireland always mention the shortage. There was a man here from Nepal who came to Ireland as a student. As he was a student here he was entitled to work 20 hours per week so he started working in the restaurant as a trainee chef. The restaurant then paid for him to go to college and now wants to employ him as their chef because he has all of the skills.
On the other side of the coin, people who own a hotel came to me about a similar matter. They have a man who is well qualified as he has a degree in hotel management and business studies and other qualifications. He has been in Ireland on a stamp 2 form since 2003. His permit kept being renewed and he was able to work so many hours a week. As he is very qualified and gets on very well with the hotel's customers they want to make him a full-time employee. Unfortunately, hotel management does not form part of the critical skills list and he does not qualify for an employment permit. The scheme was established when there was a shortage in certain areas but it is time the list was expanded. We should consider the areas that are experiencing shortages, particularly areas where employers cannot find people to take up jobs. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
I am pleased to be in the Seanad today. This is my first time in the new Seanad Chamber and I compliment the Cathaoirleach on the wonderful work that has been done to adapt the ceramics room to suit the needs of the Seanad. The room looks lovely and I wish Senators well in their sojourn here in this temporary accommodation. I was involved in the works in my previous role as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I am delighted to see everyone here today in this wonderful building.
I am pleased to be here in my new role as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and thank everyone for their good wishes. I thank Senator Byrne for raising this important issue. Ireland's overarching labour market policy is to promote the sourcing of skills and labour needs from within the workforce of Ireland and the European Economic Area. The employment permit system is ordered by the use of lists that determine those occupations which are highly demanded and in short supply in Ireland. Also, those which are ineligible for consideration for employment permits as the domestic and European Economic Area, EEA, labour markets are should be able to meet demands.
Changes to these lists are made on the basis of research undertaken by the National Skills Council, in tandem with a public consultation process, as part of a package of measures to meet skills needs. Chefs are currently on the ineligible list for employment permits, with the exception of executive chefs, head chefs, sous chefs and specialist chefs who specialise in non-EEA cuisine.
In 2015, the expert group on future skills needs, EGFSN, study on the future skills needs of the hospitality sector indicated a rising skills demand in line with the economic recovery. The EGFSN made a series of recommendations to avoid skills shortfalls as the sector grows. A hospitality skills oversight group, comprising representatives from public and private stakeholders, drives and co-ordinates actions to address the long-term needs of the sector. Work is under way to increase the supply of chefs through training initiatives such as the development of culinary apprenticeships. In parallel, my Department is actively engaged with stakeholders in the hospitality sector to develop a solution to enable the removal of chefs from the ineligible list. I expect the matter will be resolved shortly as part of the current occupation skills review and I have asked my officials to expedite completion of the report.
Hotel managers are also on the ineligible list for employment permits. The National Skills Council has not identified a skill shortage with this occupation. It does acknowledge that employers are experiencing difficulties in retaining such staff. While the emphasis is on developing skills in the Irish labour market, the role migration can play is being kept under review.As the economy improves it is critical that our economic migration employment permit system can continue to respond to emerging needs. In this regard, I have asked my officials to review the policies underpinning the current employment permit regime to ensure it is fully supportive of Ireland's emerging labour market needs.
I thank the Minister for her response and I welcome the review. The two employers I referred to subsidised trainees going to college and worked with them. They have invested money in them. The hotel manager is multilingual and with the number of tourists coming to the country, it is wonderful he has so many languages. He is really qualified for the position. Should I encourage the two employers to make a submission to the Department stating where they see the shortfalls? Would that be acceptable to the Minister? I welcome the fact that there is a review and this will be resolved. I am glad she acknowledged there are differences.
I take on board the points raised by the Senator and I would be happy to receive a submission from her on that. Employment permit policy is part of the response to addressing skills deficits but it is not intended over the longer term to act as a substitute for meeting the challenge of upskilling our resident workforce. The work of the hospitality skills oversight group in driving practical actions and collaboration to address the skills needs of the hospitality sector is to be welcomed. It is my priority to ensure the Irish labour market is positively affected by the movement of skills into the country to ensure that labour shortages in key sectors do not stall economic growth. That is very important.
For example, in recent years meat deboners and heavy goods vehicle, HGV, drivers have been removed from the ineligible occupation list in response to the labour needs of those sectors. I know from discussions with the Irish Road Haulage Association, IRHA, that there were issues regarding the shortage of skilled HGV drivers. I know the position remains challenging but I am delighted that in my own county of Monaghan, we were able to initiate a HGV driver apprenticeship programme, which is being rolled out in conjunction with Cavan-Monaghan Education and Training Board. That is a very welcome development and it will help to equip people with the necessary skills for HGV driving.
I want to see more of this because our priority, first and foremost, should be to ensure that Irish workers have the necessary skills to take on these sorts of jobs. In the short term, that might not always prove possible and in that regard the role migration can play in addressing the skills shortages is being reviewed by my Department to ensure it is fully supportive of Ireland's emerging labour market needs, be they skills or labour shortages in areas such as the hospitality sector, as Senator Byrne has highlighted.