The hospitality sector employs 240,000 people worth a combined €12.5 billion to the economy each year. The report tells us it accounted for 67% of pre-Covid employment across rural and regional areas. Outside of Dublin, tourism and hospitality is the economic lifeblood of Ireland.
As many as nine out of ten hospitality businesses are experiencing significant problems in recruiting essential core staff, according to figures from Fáilte Ireland. From chefs to bar staff, managers and kitchen porters, there are as many as 40,000 vacancies in the hospitality sector. Last year, I pointed out that the one area to consider is the fast-tracking of Irish work visas for the chefs and key hospitality workers required by our businesses. Indeed, the Minister of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth was present this morning to deal with our refugee issue. Perhaps work permit visas could be offered to people coming from countries that we are seeing economic migrants come from at this moment.
I have been contacted by a number of individuals who have been in the hospitality industry for years. They told me hoteliers are tearing out their hair over the delays in processing visas for skilled industry workers, particularly chefs. Backlogs have been experienced for months in visa decisions for young chefs from outside the EU. It is causing real difficulty in an industry that we should be doing all we can to help.
On this note, I am glad that the report calls for the expedition of work permit visa and public personal service number applications for tourism and hospital workers, as associated processing delays directly impact the sustainability of the sector. ITIC stated that with low levels of unemployment in Ireland, it would be necessary to concentrate certain efforts to recruiting talent from other EU and non-EU countries. Of course, that brings us to the elephant in the room, once again. Many highlight the difficulties around securing talent from other countries as a result of the shortage of accommodation and the cost of rental accommodation in Ireland, particularly in Dublin. The VFI, for instance, notes that Cork, Limerick and Galway are areas experiencing difficulties with accommodation and, therefore, difficulty attracting labour from overseas, as many publicans and businesses are unable to offer accommodation for migrant workers. Our ability to respond to a non-housing issue is constrained by our lack of housing.
The other issue is the working conditions, such as dodgy minimal pay practices, contracts that are not fair to employees regarding shifts - too many, not enough or ill-timed - and a lack of adequate break times. In many other countries, people can work in the same establishment for years and make a career out of it. Here, we have a culture of service work being a student, starter or part-time gig. It might be worth asking why that is and addressing it.
The report calls for the delivery of further apprenticeships, traineeships and third level diplomas and degree programmes. I could not agree more. I have been calling for this for years. We need as wide of a range as possible of prospective apprenticeships, trainees or students that are directly relevant to the tourism and hospitality sector.
The Minister faces many challenges in her the role. She is facing challenges in County Monaghan in respect of the hospitality sector and the Nuremore Hotel. We need to look after the workers and the hospitality industry. I wish her well.