Minister for Business Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys has announced an additional 500 work permits for low-skilled, lower-wage employees from outside the European Union to work in the meat industry.

The move is in response to fears that a lack of available labour could constrict the growth of the sector.

It is the second time in three months that new work permits have been issued for the meat factories, after 250 were issued during May.

That was part of a pilot quota-based work permit scheme to address immediate shortages of workers in the horticulture, meat processing and dairy sectors.

Today’s announcement will bring the total number of work permits issued under the pilot scheme to 1,300 over the past three months.

This includes 500 workers for the horticulture sector, 50 for the dairy sector and now a cumulative total of 750 workers for the meat sector.

Until now, the Irish work permit system for allowing in workers from outside the European Economic area had been focused on filling critical skills gaps at the higher end of the labour market, including high skilled jobs and professional positions in medicine, ICT, sciences, finance and business.

This pilot quota-based scheme for the horticulture, meat and dairy sectors represents a significant change in that approach.

The conditions of the permits are that employees to be brought in must be given access to suitable accommodation and training, including language training.

They must also be paid a minimum remuneration threshold of €22,000 per year.

In making today’s announcement, Minister Humphreys said that with the opening up of new markets, such as to China, it was critical that there were adequate numbers of trained staff to meet the demands of that market for Irish meat exports.