Dairy workers plead for better treatment

JON MORGAN
Last updated 10:10 25/11/2013
Dairy cows in milking shed.
Fairfax NZ
HARD YAKKA: The man worked 12 days-on two-off for two seasons - 360 days-a-year milking, split-calving with a continually increasing herd of up to 1200 cows.
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A couple tell of going "from the frying pan to the fire" in the dairy industry, moving from long, hard days, unappreciated and sacked without warning to a job of 16-hour days and bullying.

They are still in dairying, in a third job that they describe as "not perfect - but we are endeavouring to be positive".

The couple, who do not want their names or where they worked revealed, have a message for the industry's employers.

"Look after your staff, it takes very little to make them happy," the woman says.

"Reward them, give them an incentive that benefits all.

"If you want great production with low cell counts you need happy cows and staff. Give your employees something to strive for, offer them basic incentives. For example, if production improves offer a bonus day off sometime or a meal voucher - something small that makes them feel appreciated."

Don't expect workers to do 11 days straight, she says. A roster allowing a sleep-in once a week would be beneficial.

"A few more hours sleep and breakfast with your family goes a long way."

The couple have drawn up their ideal advertisement: "Mature reliable couple with old-school work ethics and values want a chance to enjoy farming. We are great communicators and love animals. We treat everything as if it were our own and we would give our soul to get what we deserve when we work our guts out."

"Would anyone reply?" she asks.

"I work as a relief milker and I see the frustration and unhappiness among staff and employers," she says.

"I know very little about farming, but I know people and I understand animals, and it appears to me that both are suffering."

They say they know five farm workers who have resigned over the past few months.

"What does that tell you? Something has to change. It's not just about milking cows."

They are telling their story to "inspire and encourage and hopefully help anyone that may be experiencing the same battle".

Their introduction to dairying began three seasons ago when they visited a local farm. The man, who worked in retail in town, offered the farm's sharemilkers free labour while he made up his mind about a move.

He was eventually offered a job and despite a "minimal" wage he jumped at it "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed".

The woman, who stayed working in her town job, said the sharemilkers told them their policy was not to employ couples to avoid possible domestic problems.

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"Little did we know that if couples are not involved together it can sometimes tear apart your relationship," she said.

The man worked 12 days-on two-off for two seasons - 360 days-a-year milking, split-calving with a continually increasing herd of up to 1200 cows.

"Our evenings consisted of me watching TV and he asleep exhausted on the couch."

After two seasons of this, they were sacked.

"My partner came home for breakfast and just caught me before I left for work - the sharemilkers were not keeping him on for the next season. No consultation, no warning," she said.

"It was like someone stabbed me in the heart.

"We were in shock. Had we not given our heart and soul? Through all the blood, sweat, and tears is this what we deserved?"

She describes her partner as "the most honest and loyal worker".

"He had said through many of our arguments that the farm came first. He had not had one sick day," she said.

They decided to move elsewhere in the North Island to make a fresh start, but went "from the frying pan to the fire", the woman says.

"The wounds are still fresh, but our move took us into a situation where my partner was working 16-hour days, the senior staff were outright bullies - nothing he did was right. It was a nightmare.

"Only through our strength and determination were we able to get out of this situation and move on."

They say they have read many success stories about the dairy industry and still hold hope they can be part of this in the future.

- Straight Furrow

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