Give your farm workers a fair go

LOUISE GILTRAP
Last updated 05:00 13/08/2014
Children in bath
Fairfax NZ

FULL HOUSE: Bath time at the Giltrap household... just "don't drink the bathwater!''

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OPINION: ''Do we have to supply a form of heating in the worker's house?" What sort of question is that? Seriously, people, have ANY of you actually read the contracts that you fill out for your employees?

I will assume that the answer is yes, yes you have. So my next question would have to be, "Do you actually understand what those contracts say?"

And water ... WHY would you think it was OK to supply drinking water to your employee's house from a river when it's testing positive for e-coli, giardia, coliform and salmonella?

"Just don't drink it" is not an option as a solution to the problem. Getting it sorted is your only option.

I have been inundated with emails and questions about these two topics.

Always my first question is "Do you have a contract?", closely followed by "Do you think your employer may have a learning disability?"

Although, to be fair, our society is riddled with people who fell through our fabulous education system.

Your employee rings up from his bathroom to say he can't come to work. He rings from the bathroom because if he leaves it he will probably need a very compassionate and non-judgmental carpet cleaner.

No-one is that bad a cook that they give themselves food poisoning every three months.

Come on people. We may very well live in Clean Green New Zealand but don't be so naive to think, or condescending to say, that you would go down and stick your lips into the river that runs past your farm and drink out of it?

We had a water issue on a farm we sharemilked on - I won't go into detail, but basically the water was back-flushing from the water trough straight into a worker's house. Not so good for him and his tiny children.

So yes, I have had that phone call from a worker who is camped on his toilet with a bucket at his feet.

In the farm owners' defence, they were quick to rectify the issue and until it was sorted paid for bottled water for the young couple to drink and cook in.

It appalls me to think that there are people out there who own farms but think they have no responsibility when it comes to their part of the contract.

So, just to be clear: Yes, you do have to supply a form of heating in any house you want to charge rent for. And a three-pin power socket doesn't count, smarty bum. To clarify, it means a fireplace, heat pump or gas heater and a full gas bottle every week.

Now don't panic, you don't have to run over and light the fire every day for them and to be fair you don't even have to supply the firewood. But make no mistake, you do have responsibilities.

The water issue? This is one of my favourite subjects.

We bought our farm 14 months ago, and paid damn good money for it in the knowledge that it has a "water exclusion" clause with Fonterra.

Our water comes from a stream that runs through a bush block infested with possums, wild pigs and other unfriendlies. Unsurprisingly, it tests positive for e-coli at quite a high rate.

Do we drink it? Hell NO!

We have been buying bottled water for drinking and cooking in since we moved in. The grandkids think I have gone mad when I yell "Don't drink the bath water!".

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Although we have filters on the house water, that only stops the "solids" coming through.

The water looks clear but would still need treatment for consumption.

It is on our short list of capital improvements, but in the meantime, with only the two of us here most of the time, buying water is neither a big deal nor expense.

Farm owners are so amped up about their right to carry out house inspections, the number of times their employee has to mow the lawn and what he needs to do to make it through his 90-day trial.

My advice is, make sure you are doing everything "as per the contract" as well. It's called leading by example, setting the standard, or whatever other phrase floats your boat.

* Louise Giltrap is a Northland dairy farmer who loves hearing from readers. gsgiltrap@xtra.co.nz

* The original published version of this story contained a spelling error which has since been corrected.

-NZ Farmer

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