The RAI has been lobbying ministers for several years to get work permits for non-European chefs, said the RAI’s Chief Executive Adrian Cummins. Speaking at the RAI’s AGM in Limerick’s Adare Manor he said that Shane Ross, the Minister for Transport and Tourism, is “letting the industry down” by not fighting its corner on the issue.
The RAI has been lobbying the Department of Jobs and Enterprise, which is responsible for skills, for seven years on this but has been told that even if the Minister moved on the work permits issue he’d be “blocked”.
Adrian Cummins claims that the Department of Justice, which controls immigration matters, appears to be heavily influencing the State’s stance on the matter.
“There’s no joined-up thinking from the Government on this,” said the RAI Chief, “One department needs to take charge. That should really be the Minister for Tourism, but he’s letting the whole industry down. He’s not fighting for this on our behalf.”
The estimated 7,000- 8,000 chef shortfall is growing by more than 3,000 annually, says the RAI.
Currently, only ethnic restaurants are granted work permits for non-EU chefs. For example, Indian restaurants can seek permits for Indian chefs but Adrian Cummins claims that even then, permits are hard to get.
“Only a couple of hundred were granted last year,” he said.
The RAI is also angry that the hospitality industry was not included in the list of sectors in which asylum seekers will be allowed work following a recent Supreme Court judgment on their right to seek employment. The RAI Chief said that there must be large numbers of qualified cooks sitting idle in direct provision centres who could be allowed to work in the industry.
But he also conceded that the industry itself could do more to address the shortage and said it may seek State funding for an advertising campaign encouraging young people to consider a career as a chef.
Literature from Global Force, a recruitment consultancy that partners with the RAI to seek chefs abroad, says mid-ranking Chefs de Partie earn average salaries of about €30,000, while Head Chefs can earn from €45,000 to over €70,000.
Meanwhile, the RAI has released research from BDO showing that 45% of restaurants reported increased turnover last year, with concerns persisting about increased insurance and labour costs.
One-third of restaurants surveyed by BDO increased staff numbers between 2016 and 2017, while a similar number plan to boost numbers in 2018. About 84% of restaurants, however, reported difficulties hiring chefs.
The industry wants the Government to consider reconstituting CERT, the old State hospitality training body that’s now part of Fáilte Ireland, to address the skills shortage.