Earthquake relief volunteer says skilled fencers having to do second health and safety induction

Tyler Fifield sets up camp in the Kekerengu Valley to help with earthquake repairs.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Tyler Fifield sets up camp in the Kekerengu Valley to help with earthquake repairs.

Government-funded repair work for earthquake-affected farmers in Marlborough is being hampered by unnecessary red tape, a volunteer worker says.

Tyler Fifield set up Facebook page NZ Farming within days of the Kaikoura earthquake in November, organising and co-ordinating volunteers and business sponsorship to repair fences and stock water on the worst affected farms in Marlborough and North Canterbury.

However, Fifield said he had not been able to access funding provided by the Government to reimburse volunteer crews.

Tyler Fifield, second from left, helps package supplies for earthquake-affected farmers with friends, from left, Josh ...
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Tyler Fifield, second from left, helps package supplies for earthquake-affected farmers with friends, from left, Josh Tomlinson-Nott, Michael Kerr and Anna Archie.

And skilled fencers were being required to pass health and safety inductions they had already obtained through their own organisations, Fifield said.

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"There are too many conditions being put in the way instead of getting on with the job," he said.

A $600,000 government-funded skilled workers programme was announced on January 28 to help farmers repair fences and farm infrastructure.

The work scheme matched skilled workers and volunteers with farmers needing help through rural employment contractors AgStaff and Federated Farmers.

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The fund had attracted 248 offers to help and 194 requests for help.

A Ministry for Primary Industries spokeswoman said the department wanted to make sure all information was logged and updated based on people's needs and availabilities before taking action.

Essential paperwork such as health and safety contracts and privacy information also had to be completed, she said.

The NZ Farming group was contacted throughout the response and recovery process, but chose to operate independently of the skilled worker programme, the spokeswoman said.

Fifield said he thought mental stress was apparent in the rural community because of the delays in getting volunteers started on repairs.

"There's plenty of experienced guys out there that are dying to help out."

Takaka fencing contractor David Jacobsen said he volunteered with NZ Farming to work two weeks unpaid repairing fences in the Clarence Valley.

He decided to stay a third week to rebuild stock yards for a farmer. 

Fifield believed some contractors were also deliberately overestimating the time needed to complete the work and overcharging.

His group created a Givealittle page which had raised $57,000 worth of cash donations, he said.

"Because of our efficiencies we have only spent $27,000 towards hiring heavy equipment, providing food and accommodation, transport costs and helicopter flights."

The remainder would be used on special projects in the rural community, he said.

The ministry spokeswoman said skilled workers were getting the market rate, and volunteers a stipend to help cover costs.

However, volunteers working with NZ Farming could not be reimbursed for their previous three months work.

"The scheme is aimed at the recovery phase, and is not retrospective, so is not applicable to any volunteers who helped in the initial response phase, regardless of how they came to be helping," she said.

"As a group of farmers helping farmers using social media, they were able to be very quick and responsive to immediate needs and we appreciate their part played in sharing information to help those on the ground."

Last week, two paid skilled workers and eight part-time volunteers were assigned on-farm, while work was completed on three farms, and 18 farms were visited, she said.

A total of 15 farms were being visited this week in Clarence and Ward, as well as seven farms in Cheviot  and Waiau.

AgStaff received 31 calls last week from a mix of farmers asking for assistance, and people offering skills, and accommodation.

There was clear need for skilled fencers, accommodation for volunteers and workers, general farm skills such as milking, calving, weaning, and building skills for minor repairs to farm buildings and internal house damage.

"We would like to encourage farmers to log their requests for help so we can send teams in area by area where possible," she said.

"Some are reticent to ask for help in case others are worse off but they should be reassured that the team can better plan getting to everyone efficiently if they sign up now."

Farmers can get help by calling 0800 FARMING.

 - The Marlborough Express

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