Irish food company seeks Estonian workers

  • 2003-07-17
  • Melanie O’Connell

Irish manufacturer Kerry Foods is turning to Estonia to relieve local labor market shortages.
The company, which already employs 18,000 people throughout its global network, now hopes to add 225 Estonians to its Ireland-based operations.
Unable to fill the vacancies through the local labor market, Kerry Foods is working with the Estonian Labor Market Board and its Irish equivalent, FAS, to recruit Estonians to fill the positions.
In the lead up to Christmas, 140 people are urgently required for a three-week period in December to work in the company's poultry department. The additional labor will prepare turkeys in order to meet increased demand during the festive season.
A further 85 permanent positions will be offered in food processing, packaging and preparation.
According to Estonian Labor Market Board's head of international relations Alice Lugna, most of the positions require unskilled workers with some proficiency of English.
"Kerry Foods has its own training system, so people without previous experience in the food processing field can apply, though those with experience are preferred," she said.
With the Estonian Labor Market Board responsible for recruiting staff to fill the vacancies, Lugna says it will be a thorough professional process.
"We will be interviewing people who want to go to Ireland in order to guarantee that they have some knowledge of English, that they would fulfill hygiene requirements of Kerry Foods, and that the candidates are suitably motivated," Lugna said.
Selling more than 10,000 different food products to more than 100 countries, Kerry Foods is one Europe's leading consumer food producers, with current annualized sales in excess of 3.5 billion euros.
According to Frank Hayes, the company's director of corporate affairs, the deficient Irish labor market has made it increasingly difficult for the company to fill vacancies with local workers.
"With the success of the Irish economy with above average growth compared to other EU countries, particularly in industries like food processing, it became very difficult to obtain local employees," he said.
Employing foreign workers is not new to the food manufacturer, who last year employed several hundred workers from Romania.
In March this year, the European Commission recommended various alliances between the existing EU member countries and the 15 accession countries, in order to increase labor market flexibility.
Estonia was paired with Ireland, and Kerry Foods, in compliance with the program's recommendations, decided to use the Estonian labor market for the first time.
Hayes said that the food manufacturer's decision was not an attempt to source cheap labor force and pointed out that new employees would receive the same conditions and wages as locally employed staff.
"We only operate through government approved schemes and organizations. For employees who come in on a long-term agreement we even advise they join the relevant local union," he said.
According to Hayes, past recruitment of staff from abroad has not resulted in animosity between foreign and locally based workers.
"In many cases, this a mutual benefit, because the success of the business is reliant on an available supply of labor and optimum staffing levels. So for the success of the local operations, we have to run them at an optimum level," Hayes said.
With minor details still being finalized, the Labor Market Board plans to advertise and begin taking applications by the end of this week. Alice Lugna believes the opportunity to work in an English-speaking country will attract a large number of applicants.
"I think that the interest will be very high. We haven't advertised at all yet and already there have been a lot of enquiries. Because Ireland is English-speaking, it is a good opportunity, particularly for young people to improve their language skills, and to experience another culture," she said.
There are currently 1,000 active Irish work permits for Estonians to work in Ireland.