The year in review

Health and safety in the workplace continues to be debated.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Health and safety in the workplace continues to be debated.

What a year 2016 has been. 

There's been no shortage of topics to debate.  We've had the 'Brexit' vote and then the US presidential election.  Closer to home, there has been the destructive New Zealand earthquake and we now have a new Prime Minister.

It was no different on the farming legal scene. This year we debated everything from Fonterra's decision to defer invoice payments to farmers' safety records. 

The year started off with Fonterra in the spotlight with its decision about invoice payments. Was Fonterra acting as a good corporate citizen? Is it obliged to? Or did its decision just reflect good business sense? 

Health and safety legislation has also been a hot topic, and widely debated with the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. Why is the agriculture sector over-represented in workplace fatality statistics? Has the new act really made a difference to reduce workplace deaths? Should dairy farms be regarded as high hazard workplaces? Next year we'll gain further insight into the workplace health and safety scene as the new legislation continues to bed in.

Employment standards also gained significant attention, with legislative changes creating tougher penalties for non-compliance with minimum wage payments and appropriate record keeping. Have farmers been unnecessarily put in the spotlight, or has there been a history or poor practice that has necessitated a higher degree of monitoring by MBIE?

Ninety-day trial periods also remain controversial. Do they really afford farming employers the flexibility needed when recruiting and hiring staff? Or do they simply create a costly trap for the unsuspecting farmer?

Environmental issues continue to remain relevant for farmers. Farmers often get caught in the crossfire over debate about effluent management, dirty dairying, and whether New Zealand's 'clean, green' reputation is fact or fiction. Are there double standards when it comes to enforcement of illegal discharges? 

For example, in 2014, the Hamilton City Council avoided prosecution when 800 cubic metres of untreated waste water spilled into the Waikato River from its Pukete Wastewater Treatment Plant.  The spill was considered 'not foreseeable' and 'adequately mitigated'.

We have debated also whether the new food standards are necessary or simply an overly burdensome compliance requirement for small market suppliers, and in particular farmers market vendors.

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Last but not least, the low dairy payout has been a source of frustration for farmers over the last year, and in itself a fuel to many legal issues, including looking at alternative income sources. One article suggested  the legalisation of medicinal cannabis supply could create a controlled and sustainable alternative income for farmers. Other options were land subdivision, sale, or conversion.

As the sun sets on the 2016 year, we hope  everyone can enjoy some well-earned time off with family and friends.

We will see you in the New Year.

  • Lawyers and legal executives from Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen write about legal topics affecting farmers.  This column was prepared by Phil McCarthy here who can be contacted by emailing philip.mccarthy@abmm.co.nz

 - Stuff

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