Teagasc is considering the recommendations of an internal review into its student farm placements including an increase to the payment rate, currently €3.50/hour, changes to placement timings and its host farmer register, the Irish Farmers Journal can reveal.
The move by Teagasc comes amid claims from some students participating in the placements that they have been “treated like slaves” under “unacceptable” conditions on a number of large farms in Munster.
Teagasc head of education Dr Anne Marie Butler met with IFA representatives in Dublin on Tuesday and a team from Kerry IFA on Wednesday on the matter, after the Kerry IFA executive approved a motion to ask IFA leadership to work to address the placement concerns last month.
The Irish Farmers Journal spoke to several students, ranging from 17 to 20 years old, at Clonakilty Agricultural College, Co Cork, about their farm placement experience. They wish to remain anonymous due to fear of getting in trouble for speaking out about the issue.
While all students felt the €122 payment for a week of physical labour was too low, they said the working conditions they were placed under were “as big an issue”.
A number of the students were left power-washing sheds and farmyards for the duration of their farm placement and said that they “learned nothing” through the “cheap old slave labour”.
One student said that the farm owners only allowed him to use the toilet inside the house when “essential” and that all that he was given for lunch for a “solid month straight” was “a piece of ham between two slice pan” which he was told to eat in the shed.
One claimed that the farmer in question was “well able to afford to pay properly” as he had “new sheds, roadways and new tractors” and that rather than doing this, “he’s been getting students year in, year out”.
The students say they have raised the issue with Clonakilty College but their lecturers “didn’t want to know”.
One student said he had to “make everything up” in his farm placement diary, required by the college, as the farmer wouldn’t contribute as needed.
Teagasc says that the majority of placements are a success but that it recognises that a limited number of placements “may not succeed”.
It said it is committed to working with its students and host farmers to ensure the experience is positive for all.