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The decision to remove a quota on the number of employment permits issued to allow chefs from outside the EU to work here has been welcomed by the director of a leading national recruitment agency.
However, Shane McLave, Director of Excel Recruitment, insists the government must streamline its “cumbersome” permit-processing system to avoid a serious backlog of applications.
More chefs from outside the EU will now be eligible for employment permits allowing them to work in Ireland as a result of the changes announced by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys.
There will no longer be a cap of 610 permits, and all grades including commis chefs, who had previously been restricted, will be eligible for permits. In addition, the current cap of two chef permits per establishment is no longer applicable.
Welcoming the news, Shane McLave, of Excel Recruitment, the nationwide recruitment firm which specialises in the recruitment of chefs and other workers in the hospitality sector as well as personnel for the retail, healthcare, HR, pharmacy, industrial and logistics sectors, said the decision would hopefully transform an industry which was currently experiencing a crippling shortage of chefs.
“This is a huge step in the right direction. It’s very positive,” he said, adding however that he hoped that the permit-processing system would be adequately resourced to cope with an expected avalanche of work permit applications from abroad.
“My only concern is that the complete removal of the quota will result in huge increases in applications. Will the government permit-processing system be resourced to deal with this?” asked Mr McLave, who works as director and work permit recruitment specialist with Excel Recruitment, which is currently undergoing a major nationwide expansion.
The company, which came to Cork last January, is moving next month to new, larger offices at Phoenix House on Cork’s Monahan Road, with another office scheduled to open in Naas in January and a third in Galway next summer.
Currently, said Mr McLave, it was taking six months for work permits to be processed via what he described as a slow and cumbersome visa processing system.
“It takes up to six months for a chef’s visa to be processed in Ireland. This is adding to the problem because by the time chefs have got an offer from Ireland, they’ve gone elsewhere, often to countries which don’t have the same amount of red tape in terms of visas and work permits as we do,” he said.
Mr McLave also questioned what the government’s plans were in terms of minimum salaries for Commis Chefs who would now be eligible for work permits for Ireland.
“Commis chefs have become eligible to apply for employment permits but what salary will the government set as a minimum for commis chefs coming into this country - and will this have an impact on commis chefs currently working here?"
Mr McLave, a former chef, said he believed another serious problem affecting the Irish hospitality sector was the poor salaries being offered to chefs here.
“Chefs get better salaries in some parts of Asia than in Ireland,” he said, adding that a qualified chef with between five and seven years’ experience, could generally expect to be paid about €28,000 a year here.
“This is not appealing because you cannot survive on that,” said Mr McLave, adding that, as a result, many chefs were opting for other jobs.
Excel Recruitment, he said, believes that a Chef de Partie, for example, should be paid between €32,000 and €34,000.
“However, our hands are tied as we cannot dictate pay rates to our clients. The industry as a whole must come to a decision to significantly increase pay rates,” said Mr McLave, whose firm has steadily expanded since it was established in 2002.
Until 2014, the company successfully focused on the retail sector, but has since expanded, first into the hospitality sector, including temporary and contract hospitality employment, and later added healthcare, HR, pharmacy, industrial and logistics to its recruitment services.
This year, in response to the shortage of qualified baristas throughout the hospitality sector, Excel Recruitment launched its innovative Irish Barista Academy in Capel Street in Dublin, offering a one-day, classroom-based learning programme for baristas, which is part-funded by the government through Skillnet.
“We are recruiting across the economy,” declares McLave. “If you look at a nursing home, for example, Excel Recruitment is supplying chefs, HR, nurses and care staff.
“We moved to Cork in 2019, and in January we’re moving to larger offices in the city. We’re also opening a new office in Naas, Co Kildare, in January, and next summer we expect to open a new office in Galway. We are predicting further growth in the areas in which we recruit.”