Horticulture Action Group Report Targets Labour Costs and Supermarkets

Minister of State endorses recommendations on the retail sector

A top level committee representing the major interests in the horticulture industry has recommended the abolition of the Joint Labour Committee that sets wages for the industry, the introduction of a statutory code of practice for the retail sector and the continuation of State grants supporting horticulture into the future.

The recommendations are contained in a 25-page report to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Shane McEntee TD.

The report points out that the cost of hiring labour in the Republic is 26% higher than in the UK and is a major factor affecting competiveness. Picking and harvesting of fresh produce is highly labour intensive and therefore the cost of employing workers is very important. It recommends:

  • The Joint Labour Committee (JLC) be abolished and minimum labour rates be brought in line with key competitor countries

The report emphasises that the Irish retail and catering markets are the most important outlets for fresh Irish horticulture produce. Growers of potatoes, vegetables and fruit are extremely concerned at the dominant role supermarkets have in controlling the price and quantities of produce marketed. The group recommends:

  • The introduction of a statutory Code of Practise for the retail sector and the appointment of an ombudsman to oversee its provisions.
  • The introduction of a mechanism whereby the amount of own brand product on a retail shelf is limited to 50% – thus enabling local producers to compete on better terms.
  • The re introduction of the ban on below cost selling including fresh produce

The Horticulture Action Group was established in December 2010 to review the horticulture recommendations in Department of Agriculture’s long term strategy ‘Food Harvest 2020’. The Group is responsible for reporting to the higher level implementation group chaired by the Minister for Agriculture with an action plan on how the recommendations can be progressed and how the horticulture sector can contribute to the targets set down in ‘Food Harvest 2020.’

The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Shane McEntee TD, said he endorsed the Group’s recommendations in relation to creating a more level playing field in the retail sector. “My colleague, Richard Bruton TD, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is currently considering the recommendations of a major report on the role of supermarkets and I will be writing to him emphasising the importance of greater statutory oversight on retail multiples because of their negative impact on an industry that supports 6,000 full-time equivalent jobs in primary production and a further 10,000 in ‘value added’ jobs.”

The Minister of State said the of issue of wage setting by Joint Labour Committees is also being considered by the same Minister and he will draw the findings of the Horticulture Action Group on this issue to his attention.

“I also note with favour the Group’s emphasis on the urgency of promoting and facilitating more collaborative initiatives within horticulture,”

The Minister of State said. “This is something I feel strongly about and will be working to promote. Collaboration and co-operation between producers increases their purchasing power for inputs as well as their selling power to the big supermarket chains. I welcome their recommendation that State grant funding to the industry should continue and I will be working hard to achieve that in the current Government Expenditure Review.”