The agri-food sector employs about 173,000 people In Ireland and contributes almost 8% to gross national income, and currently has exports worth almost €13.5 billion. However the sector is presently facing a shortage of labour for certain jobs. To address this, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation recently announced a pilot scheme to address labour shortages in the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors.
The pilot scheme will entail changes to the Employment Permit Regulations in order to make it easier for certain businesses in the agri-food sector to source workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). The changes, which will operate on a pilot basis initially and should include 500 permits for the horticulture sector, 250 for the meat industry and 50 for the dairy sector.
It is proposed under the scheme that a new minimum remuneration threshold of €22,000 is being introduced for certain occupations and there will be specific obligations on the employers around the welfare and prospects of the foreign nationals employed including ensuring they have access to suitable accommodation and to training in areas such as language skills.
Whilst details of the scheme are to follow farmers who are employers should be aware of the existing obligations under Irish employment law which in summary are as follows:
- The Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994 provides that an employer is obliged to provide an employee with a Statement in writing no later than two months after the commencement of employment containing certain information such as place of work, the title of the job, the nature of work, the date of commencement of the Contract of Employment, terms and conditions in relation to the hours of work, terms and conditions in relation to paid leave, the period of notice which the employer is required to give and entitled to receive provided by statute or contract etc.
- Under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 employers have a duty to ensure their employees’ Safety, Health and Welfare at Work as far as reasonably practicable. In order to prevent workplace injuries and ill-health, an employer is required among other things to provide and maintain a safe workplace, machinery and equipment.
- As an employer you are required to keep certain records relating to your employees. This is to show that you are compliant with employment legislation. Employers should also be aware of the GDPR which increases employers' obligations and responsibilities in relation to how they collect, use and protect personal data of their employees.
- As an employer you should be aware of The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 which deals with working hours, rest breaks. This act states that states that the maximum average working week for many employees cannot exceed 48 hours. This is based on an average or a number of months and there may be variations allowed for seasonal type work.
- As an employer you should be aware of Unfair Dismissal Law. There are certain grounds for the termination of employment including gross misconduct. However an employee cannot be dismissed on discriminatory grounds and fair procedures must be followed in effecting the termination. All employees have one year’s continuous service with the employer and who have not reached normal retirement age for employment, are included under this Act. It is important as an employer that you have a disciplinary procedure in place.
- Employers should be aware there is a minimum notice period for termination of employment apply to employees. Minimum notice period which employers must give to employees on termination depends on if a Contract of Employment exists. In the event that a Contract of Employment does not exist, the length of the period of notice depends on the length of service. Should an employer fail to provide the statutory notice period, they would be obliged to pay that employer for that period.
- The Employment Equality Acts, 1998 and 2004 permit discrimination on nine grounds and the Act prohibits discrimination in employment and in particular, access to employment, conditions of employment, training or experience for or in relation to employment promotion or re-grading or classification or of posts.
- Each employer must take measures to ensure that employees are not subject to verbal or physical bullying or harassment from their bosses, co-workers or customers and it is important that an employer has a proper policy drawn up in relation to bullying the workplace.
In the event that you have a number of employees, it is advisable that you obtain advice from a solicitor or a HR consultant regarding what your obligations are and to prepare employment contracts.
Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.
Disclaimer: While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information contained in this article, solicitor Karen Walsh does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising, and you should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.