Change needed in farm employment practices

Fonterra manager social responsibility, Matthew Trent.

Farmers need to change their employment practices if they want to attract and retain good staff, according to experts at a recent DairyNZ people expo.

Manawatu farmer Stuart Taylor, who gave the keynote address, says a change in mindset about what farmers can offer their staff is key.

“I realised that I was hiring young people to make them fit into my system rather than running a system that fitted around the people.”

Stuart’s team are now all paid an hourly rate at liveable wage level and work a maximum 55 hours per week. Staff are guaranteed a minimum of 45 hours per week, and the aim is for 50, says Stuart. More people work fewer hours, and rosters are geared to suit the needs of staff.

“Paying an hourly rate rather than salary provides flexibility around hours worked and transparency around rostered hours,” says Stuart.

Good, safe employment practices are a necessity rather than an optional extra as socially-aware consumers seek to better understand the provenance of their purchases, says Fonterra manager social responsibility Matthew Trent.

New Zealand farmers are taking their products to market on the international stage and there is increasing scrutiny on employment practices throughout the supply chain, says Matthew.

“Our consumers and customers care about how all the people in our value chain are treated – as do we.”

Paying people a fair wage and managing working hours so they don’t exceed safe levels is the minimum standard, says Matthew.

“Treating people well makes good business sense. If you care about your people, they will care about your business.”

Building a belief-based safety culture is also part of being a good employer, says Rural Safe managing director Debbie Robertson.

“Farmers want to operate safely, but it’s often not given the same priority as production, animal health or getting farm accounts sorted.

“As an industry, we need to lift our focus on safety to the same level as these other important activities,” says Debbie.

Improving safety on-farm is about building buy-in and engagement between management and staff, and about having conversations. Safety can’t afford to be an optional extra, or simply viewed as a compliance issue – otherwise it is difficult to develop a team culture where safety is valued, says Debbie.

“You can’t get behaviour change without repetition, without review. We need to consciously make decisions about safety on-farm, and it needs to be ingrained.”

Safety needs to be part of our regular conversations, says Debbie, and positive reinforcement, like vouchers, for great ideas or risk identification, can also be useful tools for building buy-in.



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