Dairy farm checks to include South Canterbury

JACQUIE WEBBY
Last updated 10:32 04/12/2013

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Checks on dairy farms to make sure they are complying with minimum employment rights will include South Canterbury.

The visits, which are notified ahead of an inspector driving in the gate, gather information on the business practices of dairy farms and any impacts on migrant labour.

Labour inspectors began visiting dairy farms in Southland in August and the work is now being replicated in the Waikato, Hawke's Bay and Taranaki.

In March next year, farms in Northland will be part of the phased visits.

Labour Inspectorate Central region manager Kris Metcalf said dairy industry and migrant exploitation are two key areas of focus for the Labour Inspectorate.  

"Any practice of averaging out pay across a season, especially for those earning low salaries, is likely to breach the minimum wage rates set in legislation," he said.

"Farmers need to ensure they keep an accurate record of all time actually worked by farm workers.

"Even workers on salaries can be vulnerable working long hours that do not equate to each hour, day or week paid meeting the minimum wage."

Inspections on Southland dairy farms found 30 per cent did not keep accurate wage and time records because workers were on salaries.

"When we reverted back to the employment agreements to establish hours of work, many were working excessive hours during busy periods such as calving, which required a top-up of wages or limiting hours worked," he said.

"Three enforceable undertakings were issued for keeping accurate wage and time records and payment of arrears of the minimum wage."

The phased visits flow on from a recent Employment Relations Authority Determination which endorsed the Labour Inspectorate position on seasonal averaging (Paul Whyte vs Labour Inspector). Metcalf said the dairy sector is a priority area of focus for the Labour Inspectorate because of the practice of seasonal averaging and migrant exploitation.

"The practice of averaging out pay across a season especially for those earning low salaries is likely to breach the minimum wage during busy periods such as calving," he said.

"Farmers need to ensure they keep an accurate record of all time actually worked by farm worker, including those on salaries.

"It is important that New Zealand's reputation as a fair place to work is maintained if the dairy sector is to grow and experience a competitive advantage on the world market."

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