Farmers & CTU debate pay

Farmers and growers need long term strategies  for developing their own workforces to counter labour shortages, Councils of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly says.

Her comments follow reports that short-staffed dairy farmers were being exploited by southern farm workers demanding “ridiculous” wages.

Peter Macfarlane, director of dairy farm workers recruitment company Greener Horizons Workforce, said some southern farm workers with little experience were demanding up to $50,000 a year plus free accommodation from farmers struggling to attract staff.

This was about $15,000 a year more than would normally be paid, Mr Macfarlane told the Southland Times.

The farm workers, who industry sources said worked between 50 and 60 hours a week on average over a year, were attempting to cash in on the booming dairy industry and record dairy payouts.

I’m not sure that 50 and 60 hours average over a year is correct. Dairy staff work longer hours during the milking season but have much shorter days over winter and farms use relief milkers to take the pressure off fulltime workers.

“There are people out there exploiting the situation because of the staff shortage,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“They are asking to get paid way more than their skills and ability deserve.”

But Ms Kelly said the admission by Southland dairy farmers that they were paying New Zealanders $35,000 per year for 50 to 60 hour weeks was shameful, particularly at a time when they were pressuring the Government to relax immigration requirements.

I’ve already disputed the hours and she’s not taking into account the value of the accommodation which comes on top of wages and is worth at least another $10,000 a year.

Yesterday wine growers were also complaining about the cost of labour while harvesting record crops, she said.

“The dairy farmers are openly admitting that New Zealand workers are available but that they turn them away because they are expecting $50,000 per year – hardly great riches for the long hours and hard work expected of them.

“We are also concerned to hear that it is apparently easy for farmers to replace these workers by employing foreign workers simply to reduce wages.

“Our immigration policies exist to fill genuine skills shortages, not to replace New Zealanders seeking work and not to cut wages and conditions.”

There is a genuine skills shortage on dairy farms – unemployment is very low and it’s extremely difficult to find New Zealanders with the desire and ability to milk cows.

Ms Kelly said New Zealanders were paying huge prices for dairy products and farmers were making more money than ever.

“It is an irony that farmers are happy to accept market demand as an excuse for higher and higher costs to consumers but don’t accept it when it has the same impact on labour costs.”

Ms Kelly said it was time some of this money was committed to building a sustainable industry, including decent wages, training, prospects and conditions of work.

The market has pushed up the cost of all farm inputs including labour. We don’t object to paying people a fair wage. The objection is to paying people with no skills or experience far more then they’re worth – where else could someone without qualifications or experience start on $35,000 plus a house? We’re also mindful that the costs won’t drop when returns inevitably do.

There is good training for farm workers from AG ITO, to universities.  Those with ability and application have good prospects and, while their will always be bad exceptions, there isn’t generally a problem with conditions.

The problem is supply and expectations – too few people willing and able to do the job for a fair wage.

5 Responses to Farmers & CTU debate pay

  1. jafapete says:

    “… where else could someone without qualifications or experience start on $35,000 plus a house?”

    Begs the question, why don’t you have unskilled workers beating a path to your farmgates? There are other factors that determine wage levels. In particular, you also seem to have missed this bit in the ST artile:

    “Union secretary Calvin Fisher said when the industry had the ability to exploit farm workers it didn’t hesitate.

    “There’s plenty of farmers who, by reputation, can’t attract staff now because of the way they have treated workers in the past,” he said.

    Though there were some good farm employers, the industry had been slow to respond to reasonable employment practices and had “exhausted people off the industry”, he said.”

    “We’re also mindful that the costs won’t drop when returns inevitably do.”

    I bet labour costs do, even thopugh they are “stickier” than other costs.

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  2. […] Update: Homepaddock comes at this from a different point of view. […]

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  3. homepaddock says:

    JP – there are bad employers and bad employees in every industry and you’re judging the good majority by the standards of the poor minority.

    We don’t have people beating a path to our doors because unemployment is low and dairying doesn’t appeal to everyone in spite of the fact it is very well paid.

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  4. jafapete says:

    Homepaddock,
    I am sure that there are plenty of farmers who are good employers, and I guess unionists tend to deal more with the bad employers and get a distorted view of employers, but the union secretary is pointing to this as part of the problem. It is plausible, given the attitudes that small employers in general hold (It’s my money invested; I’m providing you with a job…), and farmers in particular (backbone of the country, export earnings…).

    $35,000 plus accommodation (which does vary a great deal) might be reasonable for an entry-level worker in town (especially Auckland, which is much more expensive to live in), but if the supply of labour is limited by the long (albeit seasonally so) hours, isolation, etc, then it may be unreasonable. And how much more to experienced workers get paid?

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  5. homepaddock says:

    JP: A herd manager – and someone who’s been milking for a couple of years is usually capable of doing that – would get about $50,000 plus the house and a manager would be on at least $80,000 to $100,000 plus the house.

    There are variations for example share milkers who pay some of the costs and get a share of the profit. And some employers also help staff into herd and/or farm ownership.

    Some farmers feed their staff, at least during calving too; and there’s usually free fire wood and sometimes meat and often the opportunity to raise a few pigs.

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