Workers of the world rush in to ride Celtic tiger

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The Independent Online
AT DUBLIN'S main jobcentre, prospective workers are greeted by signs in French, German and Spanish. Ten years ago this could have been regarded as a meaningless gesture but, as Ireland's tiger economy continues to grow, employers are resorting to inventive measures to redress increasing labour shortages.

With an unemployment rate of 6 per cent compared with 15 per cent 10 years ago, with a further big fall expected next year, many businesses in the republic now regard the economy as in full employment. While the traditional labour pool continues to shrink, economists agree that immigration must be encouraged to feed a need.

In the coastal town of Dun Laoghaire, eight miles from Dublin, business is looking across the sea to Wales to help fill 300 or so job vacancies. The local business association is asking the Stena Line ferry company to introduce a low fare for Welsh workers willing to make the 90-minute commute either daily or weekly.

Employers hope that Holyhead's 3,000 jobless can make a substantial impact on their labour problem. One buildertravelled to the Welsh port town himself last month to recruit 20 labourers. The day after they arrived, 14 were poached by a rival developer offering higher wages.

Skilled craftspeople can expect to make up to pounds 950 a week in the Dublin area. Dave Done, a recent immigrant from Clwyd, says the opportunities are too good to pass up. "There's plenty of well paid work for everyone here. It couldn't be more different from the way it is at home," he said. "I could have got the same wages in London, but I think the quality of life is better here."

Bosnians, Romanians, English, Scots and Portuguese are employed on the site where Mr Done works, and still there are vacancies for more than 40.

Dun Laoghaire's business association is not alone in its aggressive recruiting. The shrinking labour supply has prompted big companies to advertise for staff on television and radio, occasionally in foreign languages. Some jobs advertised for a year are still not filled.

Campaigners for the rights of refugees, of which the republic now handles 1,000 a month, say they should be allowed to work while their applications are processed. Many employers in the building and catering trades are prepared to risk taking on staff without the necessary work papers.

As well as encouraging non-nationals into the workforce, the government is involved in a drive to bring home Irish emigrants from Britain, America and Australia. Such is the reputation of Ireland's economy that in the past six years, 118,000 emigrants have resettled in the republic - a trend not seen since the early 1970s. Emigration continues to fall significantly each year, but still there are not enough workers. Many of the returning emigrants are skilled hi-tech workers and can name their prices. At the Financial Services Centre in Dublin the average wage stands at pounds 76,000.

However, foreigners entering Ireland can expect to encounter an infrastructure near bursting point. The boom has seen the populations of cities such as Cork and Dublin swell sharply, leading to a severe shortage of housing. House prices in the capital are among the highest in Europe. Last year the average price of a home in Ireland was pounds 102,000, compared with pounds 77,500 in Britain. The republic's relatively high tax brackets of 24 and 46 per cent used to be offset by lower living costs, but that is no longer so.

Still, for workers such as David Done, the pay and work outweigh other considerations. "When I came here I thought I'd commute, but I've decided to stay put for as long as the boom lasts. I'd encourage other Welsh people looking for work to do the same."

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