Employers angered at new rules over work permits

 

Stricter rules on bringing in workers from outside the EU, so Irish or other EU nationals get first choice of job vacancies, have angered employers in some sectors. They say it is a cosmetic gesture which ignores real skills shortages.

Employers claim standards in tourism and manufacturing will drop because of additional delays in getting skilled people.

From January, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will no longer accept applications for new work permits unless they are accompanied by a letter from F┴S confirming that "all reasonable efforts" have been made by the employer to find an Irish or other European Economic Area national to fill the vacancy.

In the run-up, applications for work permits have been receiving closer scrutiny. Fees have also been increased. The Tβnaiste, Ms Harney, exempted the medical, construction, and IT sectors from the new measures. Renewals of permits for existing employees would also be facilitated, she said.

Yet in hotel and manufacturing industries, employers say the new arrangements are already making their lives more difficult. "You can't turn somebody into a skilled waitress or chef overnight," said Mr Denis Moylan, managing director of hotel and catering recruitment specialists, CRC International.

"In any case, are you going to get people from Aer Lingus coming down to a hotel in Connemara to work?" he asked. "In the last three months every single applicant for the hotel industry has been turned down."

Repeat applications are also being returned, said Mr Moylan.

"Yesterday, [late December] a renewal was returned wanting proof that the hotelier had advertised to fill the vacancies. A lot of these people would want to spend a second term here. Mary Harney had promised not to clamp down on people already here.

"More people are simply going to work illegally," he said, predicting that organisations such as the Russian mafia will become more involved.

"The new provisions are delaying the process. We are getting work permits now in December we applied for in August."

Work permit fees for employers have risen from €158.75 (£125) to €400 (£314.80).

"This is an indirect tax. The processing is not any quicker. It now takes 44 working days.

"We advise candidates now realistically they are looking at four months. Yet tourism is not a business you can plan for ahead of time.

"Going back to F┴S is a backwards step. We are going back 10 years," he said.

Some of the employees on his books "are worried if it's worth their while coming back to Ireland after Christmas."

Mr Moylan brings in some 1,000 trained hotel workers from outside the EU to work in the catering industry here. He said the hospitality industry needs more than 20,000 people a year from overseas, whatever the economic climate.

"The people are not there to fill the vacancies. There's going to be mayhem next April.

"The basis of the whole problem is we do not have an immigration policy," Mr Moylan said. "There are thousands working illegally. Mary Harney's new measures are adding to the situation where these workers may be exploited."

Foreign workers have raised standards in the industry in Ireland, he said.

"The Czechs and Poles and others are punctual. When they are on-duty they are on-duty. They don't come in with hangovers and they are clean."

Mr Richard Kelly, managing director of Kelly Steel, Newbridge, Co Kildare employs 11 welders from Poland, Estonia, Czech Republic as well as two engineers and a quantity surveyor from Poland.

His company advertises regularly to attract Irish employees. In the last couple of months he has recruited a few people from these advertisements, but not enough for his needs.

Kelly Steel's foreign workers are paid the same, and in some cases more, than Irish employees because they are more highly skilled, according to the company. All of them received the new Health and Safety certificates at first attempt, Mr Kelly said.

The workers coming in here are like the Irish were in the 1980s, he said. "It's their turn. They are the ones hungry now. We no longer want to do the kind of work they are willing to do. Kelly Steel are very pleased, and we would employ far more of them if allowed.

Mr Kelly said F┴S have not succeeded in training Irish employees to a sufficiently high standard.

"We need to train more, train them better. In the meantime, we need these foreign workers."

He described the Tanaiste's tightening of regulations as "a panic measure" following recent jobs losses.