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Work permit wage increases impact horticulture employers

Mushroom, vegetable and fruit growers dependent on third country workers have said they are being hit with unsustainable wage costs after the Government increased mandatory wage rates.

The sector depends on workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) – the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – as Irish and EU workers tend not to be interested in the jobs they offer.

Prior to January this year, non-EEA horticulture and meat processing general workers were paid a mandatory minimum wage of €22,916.

However, in mid-January, that increased to €30,000 for any new personnel arriving for these jobs. Next year, it rises to €34,000 and in January 2026 it will be €39,000.

The wage increase also applies to any workers already here on permits, when those permits are renewed, boosting their incomes by a few thousand euros.

While it is undoubtedly good for workers, employers in the sector – many of whom are grappling with the effects of adverse weather and growing conditions – have said those wage levels are not affordable if they want to stay in business.

Niall McCormack is a fruit grower in Co Longford and the IFA’s horticulture chairman and claims the increase in staff wages are “unsustainable”.

“Increases in staff wages over the past few months are enormous and have left the horticulture sector in an unsustainable position,” he said.

“The minimum wage increased by 12% in the Budget and the General Employment Permit (for non-EEA workers) has initially increased 31%.

“The revised salary map is unworkable and will have crippling consequences for our industry,” Mr McCormack said.

He said wages account for 40% of costs in the sector and there was no meaningful consultation with growers prior to work permit wages being increased.

Both the new Taoiseach Simon Harris and the Minister for Finance Michael McGrath have said over recent days they wish to assist struggling businesses.

Adjustments to PRSI rates for employers are being considered and the special Increased Cost of Business Grant is being rolled out.

However, most horticulture businesses do not pay commercial rates and cannot avail of that grant.

SIPTU Genereal Secretary Greg Ennis said the wage increases will create upward pressure on employers

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Employment told RTÉ News: “the Government recognises the importance of the agri-food sector and the challenges it faces with increasing costs.

“As such, we have engaged with the sector and will continue this consultation with regard to any future changes to minimum salary thresholds for Employment Permits.”

The statement added the aim of the Employment Permits system is not to gain access to cheap labour but “to assist economic growth by facilitating the filling of key skills gaps which cannot be filled using domestic or EEA labour markets.”

It also said the purpose of the recent minimum salary threshold increases was to ensure economic migrants have a sufficient means to live in Ireland given its high cost-of-living and to allow them to qualify for the minimum threshold for family reunification, which is set at €30,000 by the Department of Justice.

Most non-EEA workers are not members of unions, but SIPTU nevertheless has strongly welcomed the increase in wages brought about by the new rates, not least because it puts upward pressure on wages of other workers as well.

“The wages are far from high. They are just at living wage levels and it’s beholden on everyone in this country to ensure that workers are treated fairly, with respect and with decent pay,” SIPTU General Secretary Greg Ennis said.

He added: “Ireland is one of the most expensive places in Europe to live and it’s important these workers’ conditions are up there, beyond the minimum wage, because the price of rent is extortionate, the prices of even groceries are still running quite high … Ireland is a difficult place to survive on the living wage, let alone something lower than that like the minimum wage.”

However, employers in the sector, most of whom have family-run businesses, have said the impact of the wage increases are threatening their entire operations.

“The horticulture sector operates on extremely tight margins …therefore any increase in wage costs has immediate and devastating consequences for the sector,” Niall McCormack said.

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