There has been a modest rise in farm employee salaries during the last 12 months, according to the 2017 Federated Farmers-Rabobank Farm Employee Remuneration survey.
The mean salary for employees on grain farms increased by 2.3 per cent since the 2016 survey, while the mean salary increased by 1.8 per cent and 0.3 percent for employees on sheep and beef and dairy farms respectively.
The survey was completed earlier this year and collected information from 914 respondents in 2834 positions.
Federated Farmers employment spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says it is positive to see farming salaries creeping upwards given the tough economic conditions experienced by farmers in recent years.
“Many farming operations experienced a difficult 2016 and as a result we weren’t expecting to see much movement in salaries from last year’s report, especially given survey responses were collected in late 2016 and early 2017 at a time of low farm income.
“At the time survey responses were being collected the recovery in dairy prices was well underway, however farmers were yet to see the cash-flow benefit materialise.
“Sheep and beef farmers were also experiencing low returns during this period and this will have impacted farm employee salary decisions.
“While we have seen small decreases in the mean salary for some of the 15 roles surveyed, it’s pleasing to see the overall mean salary has risen for employees across all farming sectors.”
The survey found salary rises were more common for junior positions and there was also quite a big jump in salary for shepherds on sheep and beef properties, at a four per cent increase.
“Given other non-monetary benefits often make up a farm employees’ total package, such as food, accommodation and power, the total package provided to farm employees is still very competitive in comparison to other off-farm roles.”
As well as remuneration, the survey also questioned respondents on a range of employment issues including the hours employees worked, the length of time employees had been in a role, training provided and the use of employment agreements.
The survey found the average number of hours worked per week by farm workers was still relatively high at close to 44 hours but it had fallen since the last survey for some roles.
“While there has been minimal movement in dairy farm worker salaries, it was positive to see the average number of weekly hours being worked by entry-level staff on dairy farms continues to drop. This figure reduced from 43 hours to 42 hours on average and is the second consecutive drop with an average of 45 hours recorded two years ago. This is good because it reflects a higher per hour wage, but also suggests some farmers are becoming better at managing their rosters to reduce the workload on staff.
“Farming requires hard work at certain times of the year and that’s unlikely to change, but generally staff should be working reasonable hours to enable a work- life balance.”
The survey also found the use of employment agreements had increased during the last year.
“Having a written employment agreement for all staff is a staple of good employment practice and compliance with the law. According to the survey, more than 90 per cent of permanent employees now have a written employment agreement with 96 per cent compliance in the dairy industry,’’ says Andrew.
“This is up on last year when 88 per cent of respondents had a written agreement and is evidence that the efforts of leading farmers and farming organisations to push better employment law compliance are having an effect.”
Another key finding in the survey was the high percentage of employers who find it difficult finding farm staff, an issue often spoken about in the industry.
Difficulty in recruiting
The survey found 40 per cent of all farm work employers reported it being “not at all easy” or “not very easy” to recruit for new staff although around 75 per cent of all farm worker employers were satisfied with the performance and capability of the staff that they do employ.
“Recruitment, especially in the dairy and grain industry, is still proving difficult which is reflected in the fact there is still relatively high reliance on migrant labour.”
The key finding of the survey are summarised in the recently released Federated Farmers-Rabobank farm salaries report. The 2017 report is the tenth collaboration between the two organisations and provides a comprehensive overview of remuneration in the agricultural sector.