Improve pay data - inspector

Manawatu farmer is the new dairy head for Federated Farmers. Andrew Hoggard farms 560 cows at Kiwitea, 15 minutes' drive north of Feilding. He replaces the retiring dairy chairman Willy Leferink, who held the position for three years. Hoggard has highlighted the environment and says he wants to front foot the issue for dairying, not just respond to concerns. There will be a new national president elected tomorrow when Bruce Wills stands down.

A labour inspector says most dairy farmers don't keep records for their workers' hours or wages.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's general manager of labour inspectorate, George Mason, told farmers at the annual conference of Federated Farmers dairy that only 35 or 40 per cent of dairy farmers kept data for their workers.

He said they were required to keep accurate records.

Failure to do so could undermine other areas important to farming, Mason said: "Food safety, the environment, animal welfare and market access."

He said there had been a change in attitude but it needed to be followed by a change in behaviour.

With stiffer occupational safety law on the agenda, there were many questions on how it might work, with hours at calving time and houses for workers themes that were brought up. Federated Farmers delegates were concerned putting housing in the equation meant workers would pay more tax and receive less money.

Mason said labour inspectors were running out of patience. "Labour inspectors have a right to turn up, but most of the time we make appointments with farmers because it's practical."

But he said if they turned up on a farm and there was no record keeping, penalties which could be applied were $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for corporates.

"Think about this positively. There are better systems now to record hours. A smartphone could easily be used to monitor staff hours - when they go through the gate and when they come out of it."

Federated Farmers Palmerston North policy adviser Tessa Mills said farmers had to lift their game on employment record keeping.

"People need to have their records up to scratch. It's time we got up to speed. Regardless of feelings, it just is something that has to be done."

Mason said there were opportunities for dairying from using good employment practices and dairy farmers needed to not leave themselves vulnerable by flouting regulations.

About 200 people were in Palmerston North for the start of Federated Farmers' national conference, which was split into dairy, meat and fibre, and grain and seed.

Yesterday delegates talked about wool, the meat industry, research and smaller dairy companies, Fonterra price setting, and countering tuberculosis.

Today there will be a Federated Farmers session on the tick-borne disease theileria, which makes cattle anaemic.

About 90 dairy cows were put down because of it in Whanganui, the region's dairy chairman Tony Rogers said.

There will also be a political debate, featuring party leaders.

It is a three-day conference, ending tomorrow.

Manawatu Standard