Food Sector Needs More Overseas Workers

06 Nov 2019 | 11.22 am

Food Sector Needs More Overseas Workers

Food Drink Ireland report

06 Nov 2019 | 11.22 am

Admitting more foreign workers to Ireland is essential if the food and drink sector is to continue to grow, according to representative organisation Food Drink Ireland.

With unemployment down to 4.8%, the Ibec body says that the tight labour market is posing problems for labour-intensive sectors such as prepared consumer foods, and it wants employment permit schemes for foreign workers to be extended and tweaked so that more can be hired.

FDI’s report, A sector with a lot on its plate: Labour challenges in the Prepared Consumer Food sector 2019, includes a comprehensive list of policy recommendations to government, including:

  • Remove food process operatives from the list of ineligible occupations for work permits
  • Provide an initial allocation of 500 permits
  • Introduce a seasonal work permit scheme to assist companies during peak production times, in line with other European countries
  • Provide clarity on the requirement for ‘continuous residence’ for citizenship applications, recognising the frequent need for business travel in an internationalised sector such as prepared consumer foods
  • Safeguard the cost competitiveness of the Irish PCF sector regarding both labour and other costs.

FDI sector director Linda Stuart-Trainor (pictured) said: “People are at the heart of Ireland’s PCF sector – from food scientists to operatives on the factory floor to top marketing talent. It is vital that access to labour and skills does not become the weak link in the food supply chain.

“Already some companies are expressing caution in bidding for contracts or making plans to expand capacity, as they are not confident there will be an adequate supply of labour and skills to deliver on these commitments. Without policy interventions, this situation is likely to worsen.”

She pointed out that the sector now employs more than 22,000 people directly and exports products to the value of €2.6 billion, and called for more research into automation and its application in the sector, togethre with funding for an agri-food careers portal from the National Training Fund, and a focus group to better understand how to attract and retain graduates.

The PCF sector produces value-added food and beverages, for Ireland and overseas, selling to grocery, convenience retail, food services or other food companies. The sector includes foods from breakfast meats to yoghurts, ingredients, value-added seafood, value-added horticulture and non-alcoholic beverages.

The full report is available here.

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