The criteria for the work permit system in Ireland needs reviewing to deal with a shortage of workers in the hospitality sector, Galway TD Noel Grealish has said.
Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Grealish said that after two years of restrictions, the hospitality sector is facing a “new and significant” challenge to its recovery in the form of staff shortages.
Nine out of ten businesses are reporting staffing issues he said, citing Fáilte Ireland research, with as many as 40,000 vacancies nationwide.
“These vacancies are across all departments, including chefs, kitchen staff, front-of-house staff, waiters, waitresses, housekeeping staff and receptionists.”
Deputy Grealish said that a catering company in Galway has 15 vacant positions, with no applications for of the available jobs.
“The work permit system should be looked at to enable the hospitality sector to secure essential workers and to help our economy to recover as quickly as possible.”
“Difficulties organising visas, long processing times and many vacancies in job categories that do not meet the criteria need to be reviewed to help our economy in the short to medium term.”
“Another significant issue is accommodation, with many hotels setting aside a certain number of rooms for workers. This takes capacity out of the tourism sector,” Noel Grealish added.
He warned that a lack of staff for hospitality businesses could have a serious impact on tourism, and the success of Galway’s many festivals over the summer.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin responded that the government is responding to the labour shortage through expanded work permits, and upskilling programmes.
“A number of occupations in the hospitality sector have been removed from the ineligible occupations list and are eligible for the general employment permit,” the Taoiseach said.
He said that access to work permits was expanded to all grades of chef in 2019, with 400 such permits expedited in last year.
The Taoiseach said that there are currently 827 applications by chefs in the queue for work permits, with 749 in the standard queue and 78 in the trusted partner queue.
“We will do everything we can to accelerate the work permit process to meet a genuine shortage in the hospitality sector. There is no doubt about that.”
Noel Grealish said that hotels and restaurants are struggling to get many different types of front line-staff, not just chefs but also “ordinary kitchen staff, waiters, waitresses and reception staff”.
“They cannot even get them within the EU, never mind outside it, because of the difficulties with work permits.”
Taoiseach Martin said that Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has trebled the number of staff working on processing permit applications, to cut down on waiting times.