Wednesday, 15 September 2021
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment
104. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to address the labour shortage in the mushroom industry; if he plans to reintroduce the pilot labour permit scheme; and if he further plans to implement other supports in this regard. [43525/21]
Policy responsibility for the food production industry is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Food Wise 2025sets out a ten-year plan for the agri-food sector. It underlines the sector’s unique and special position within the Irish economy, and it illustrates the potential which exists for this sector to grow even further. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine chairs the Food Wise High Level Implementation Committee (HLIC), with senior representation from all the relevant departments, including an official from this Department, and State agencies. The creation of 23,000 additional jobs all along the supply chain from producer level to high-end value-added product development are among the ambitious and challenging growth projections for the industry over the timeframe of the plan.
The employment permits system is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill skills and/or labour shortages, however, this objective must be balanced by the need to ensure that there are no suitably qualified Irish/EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that the shortage is a genuine one. It is managed through the operation of the critical skills and the ineligible occupations lists which determine employments that are either in high demand or are ineligible for consideration for an employment permit. The Iists are subject to twice yearly evidence-based reviews.
In May 2018, following a detailed business case submitted by the sector, my Department introduced a pilot quota-based scheme to remove the occupations of horticulture worker, meat processing operative and dairy farm assistant from the ineligible occupations list. This pilot scheme proved very successful for a range of employers in the sector and 500 permits were made available to the Horticulture sector. At present, the three quotas created for Dairy Farm Worker, Horticulture Worker and Meat Processing Operative are exhausted.
In order to ensure that the employment permits system is responsive to changes in economic circumstances and labour market conditions, it is managed through the operation of the critical skills and the ineligible occupations lists which determine employments that are either in high demand or are ineligible for consideration for an employment permit. The lists are subject to twice yearly reviews which are evidence based and are guided by research undertaken by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) and the Skills and the Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU) in SOLAS, a public consultation process, input from the relevant policy Departments and the Economic Migration Inter-Departmental Group, chaired by the Department. Account is also taken of contextual factors such as Brexit and, in the current context, COVID 19 and their impact on the labour market.
Consideration of the submissions received to the current occupations lists review is underway, including from the mushroom sector, and scheduled to be finalised in the Autumn.