Labour shortage leads Musgrave Group to lobby Government on visa rules

SuperValu and Centra owner said staff shortages were an issue ‘across the board’ for retail

A labour shortage across the retail and hospitality sector has led to SuperValu and Centra owner Musgrave to lobby the Government for changes to foreign visa rules to get more workers into the country.

The Musgrave Group is one of the largest employers in the country with over 35,000 people working across its stores in Ireland.

Records from the lobbying register show the group recently met with Minister of State from the Department of Enterprise Damien English, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and MEP Mairead and other politicians to lobby for changes to visa requirements to make it easier to recruit from third countries.

Director of corporate affairs Edel Clancy told The Irish Times that staff shortages were an issue "across the board" for retail and there was a need to recruit from outside Ireland and the EU as a result.

“While Covid and Brexit exacerbated the problem, they didn’t cause it. The skills we need are now in short supply across the country. We do upskilling and developing the careers of the people we have in store and we have very high retention but we still have gaps,” she said.

The Musgrave Group does “all of the usual things in terms of recruitment and are very supportive of the idea of apprenticeships being added to the CAO” but the high cost of living in Ireland was still a deterrent to a lot of workers, Ms Clancy said.

Ms Clancy said the Government needed to “do more in terms of the cost of accommodation and public transport.”

“We exhaust all avenues to hire Irish workers and EU workers but there is a shortage across the board, so we have to recruit from outside the EEA,” she explained.

Last October, Minister of State for Business Damien English abolished the quota of 320 for employment permits granted to HGV drivers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

Some 187 such employment permits have been issued, mainly to South Africa. The haulage industry estimates there is a shortage of between 3,000 and 4,000 drivers.

More builders, hospitality managers, horticulture workers, dairy-farm assistants and meat processors are also to be allowed the work permits, as are social workers and opticians.

In response to a query from The Irish Times about whether changes to work permits would be extended to workers in retail and hospitality, a spokesman said changes are made to employment permit occupations lists “where there are no suitable Irish/EEA nationals available and the labour shortage is genuine and not due to working conditions or the salary being offered.”

The occupations lists are subject to twice yearly evidence-based review and take account of research undertaken by the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (SOLAS) and the Expert Group of Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), a public consultation process, input from the relevant policy Departments and the Economic Migration Inter-Departmental Group, chaired by the Department.

The next review of the Occupations Lists will open in the coming weeks by Public Consultation.

"Organisations in the sector can then provide the necessary data to substantiate their claims with a detailed evidence-based case showing structured engagement with the Department of Social Protection and engagement on training initiatives," the spokesman said.

Mr English was “committed to supporting the needs of the retail sector and continues to engage directly with operators”.