Rural round-up

April 21, 2015

Sturgess.”I’ll help” – Neal Wallace:

Tom Sturgess, one of New Zealand’s richest men and largest farmers, is willing to be involved in making the red meat industry more profitable.

A career that includes running several diverse multi-billion-dollar companies including United States meat packing houses has given Sturgess some clear thoughts and ideas on how to revitalise the meat industry, even though some of those solutions could be considered unconventional.

Sturgess volunteered his help in an FWplus interview, saying he would happily be involved to find ways to improve sector profitability if he was wanted. . .

Shear warmth: former hairdresser’s dream become reality :From being a city hairdresser in New Plymouth making small talk with clients to living in the remote central North Island where the closest neighbour is eight kilometres down a winding, gravel road, Monique Neeson has been through a few changes.

You can also add to that the launch of a company selling woollen blankets that are, as she describes them, born, grown, woven and handmade in New Zealand.

Neeson laughs at her transformation.

“I can remember the first time I came to this farm, winding down the road for absolutely ages, and I told Tim, [now her husband], I’d never negotiate the road again.” . .

Don’t fight system farmers told – Alan Williams:

Farming within water quality limits is now a reality that all farmers will need to adapt to, Canterbury farmers have been told.

The process of setting quality limits and the farming changes required to meet them would be challenging and take time for everyone to get there, Environment Canterbury (ECAN) commissioner David Bedford told the Future of the Heartland farm forum at Conway Flats in North Canterbury today.

Some nutrient management tools had limitations and were still being developed and ECAN compliance activities would take that into account, he said in a speech on behalf of head commissioner Dame Margaret Bazley. . .

Farmers’ bank balances under severe pressure:

Industry body DairyNZ says bank balances for most dairy farmers will be heading south this winter and spring, producing some short-term but significant cashflow management challenges for farmers.

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says 2015-16 will still probably end up being a breakeven year for most farmers but cashflow will be a major issue that could result in some increased term debt in the sector and less spending in the regions.

“Farmers are used to having seasonal cashflow that drops into the red but then pops back into the black at some stage during the summer period. However, our current forecasts indicate that many farmers won’t be in credit for the entire 12 months of next season unless costs are reduced, income is higher than predicted or some of their overdraft is put into their term debt.” . . .

24 ways to to survive next drought – Nadene Hall:

Ask a group of farmers with over 500 years’ experience between them how to manage a property before, during and after a drought, and you get a lot of practical tips and wisdom. AgResearch asked 20 South Canterbury farmers about their strategies for successfully managing their properties after a drought.

All the farmers had experienced severe droughts over the previous 20-30 years of farming. What worked best on an individual property depended on things like its climate and soil type, and what was being farmed, but the scientists concluded these are the key areas to look at: . .

Search on for cotton workers – Andrew Marshall:

AUSTRALIA’S rural skills shortage is not just a problem troubling individual farms or regional machinery businesses – the cotton industry fears the profitability of the entire cropping sector is eroding.

The combined impact of new farm technology growth and a shortage of rural recruits with skills ranging from information technology and accounting, to engineering and agronomy, is stressing broadacre agriculture’s efficiency and productivity.

Corporate farms and big agribusinesses are frequently resorting to ‘cherry picking’ the talent they need from other players or other sectors of the industry, even if it means taking agronomists and turning them into bankers.  . .


Rural round-up

April 18, 2015

Criteria “too tough” on migrant workers – Federated Farmers – Tess McClure:

Farmers facing labour shortages say immigration criteria is “too tough” for migrant workers plugging the gap.

High numbers of farmers had approached Federated Farmers Southland with concerns about visas for their migrant worker employees, regional president Russell Macpherson said.

He said many workers were having trouble getting residency visas, despite calls from farmers to help keep their employees in-country.
 
“For some reason the people at immigration don’t think these jobs are important enough to grant them residency,” he said. “They’re doing work that New Zealanders clearly don’t want to do, so why are we making it so hard?”
 
While many migrant workers coming to New Zealand on work visas have high hopes of staying in the country and bringing their families over, less than a third are granted the chance of residency. . .

Shearing community mourns woolhandler:

The shearing community is mourning the loss of New Zealand woolhandling legend, Joanne Kumeroa, who has died after a three year battle with cancer.

The 45-year old had been living in Australia but returned home to Whanganui just before Christmas, and died yesterday.

Ms Kumeroa was regarded in shearing circles as a New Zealand icon, winning more World, Golden Shears and national wool-handling titles than any other competitor in her 24 year career.

Friends said she used her battle with cancer to raise women’s awareness of the disease. . .

Project to future-proof our biosecurity system:

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has launched a new project which will further strengthen and future-proof New Zealand’s biosecurity system.

The project, Biosecurity 2025, will update and replace the founding document of New Zealand’s biosecurity system, the 2003 Biosecurity Strategy, with broad input from stakeholders, iwi and the New Zealand public.

“Government and industry have set a goal of doubling the value of our exports by 2025, and an effective biosecurity system is fundamental to achieving this,” says Mr Guy. . .

 

Peta’s mutilated lamb campaign sparks backlash (graphic content) – Rosanna Price:

The picture above has been captioned by PETA with: THIS is what most sheep used for wool look like after “shearing”.

But many people, including animal-activists and sheep shearers, disagree.

The image of an Australian musician holding the explicity graphic and mutilated body of a lamb was animal rights group PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’) way of advertising their latest expose on sheep shearing. . .

Outstanding in her field:

Dairy Woman of the Year 2015 Katie Milne hopes to use her new profile for the wider good of New Zealand farming. 

Katie Milne hopes winning the Dairy Woman of the Year title will be a good platform to push messages about farming as “the rest of New Zealand do not understand us well”.

 “They need to understand us better so we can be allowed to grow our industry, and to do that New Zealand has got to back us,” Milne told Rural News. . .

Questions for Fonterra – Andrew Hoggard:

A lot of shareholders were disappointed with the interim results Fonterra announced last week.  Many feel they are not seeing a return on their investment.

I think we might be asking the wrong question.  It shouldn’t be about where’s the return on our investment, but rather where do we see the value of being part of a co-op.

At the moment the milk price we are paid is based on the Global Dairy Trade result.  It is averaged across the season – less manufacturing costs – in a very crude simplistic sense.  The reality is that all the other companies should be achieving this anyway with their products. . .

Field day for Waipā catchment:

An event organised by DairyNZ aims to advise famers and landowners on how best to manage their property in an environmentally sustainable way.

People in the Waipā River catchment are being encouraged attend the Kaniwhaniwha Stream field day, which will offer information on funding sources for environmental initiatives along with other resources.

Hosts Denis and Felicity Ahlers have worked with industry body DairyNZ to develop an environment-focused sustainable milk plan. They have also identified work that can qualify for council and Waikato River Authority funding. . .


Dairy audit results unacceptable – Feds

April 2, 2015

The high level of non-compliance with employment law found by labour inspectors is unacceptable:

Enforcement action is being taken against 19 employers in the dairy industry for breaching employment law following a three month operation by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

The Ministry’s Labour Inspectorate visited 29 dairy farms in nine regions to check their compliance with employment laws. More than half were targeted due to information about likely non-compliance.

“The level of non-compliance identified during this operation was extremely high and it was disappointing to find that a significant number of farmers still do not have systems in place to keep accurate time and wage records that are compliant with employment legislation,” says Natalie Gardiner, Labour Inspectorate Central Regional Manager.

Mrs Gardiner says MBIE issued 15 Improvement Notices and four Enforceable Undertakings for a total of 71 minimum employment standard breaches. The majority of breaches related to poor record keeping but several farms had significant minimum wage breaches and there is estimated arrears owed – of more than 120,000. Nine of the more serious cases are being considered for filing with the Employment Relations Authority.

Poor record keeping is a breech which doesn’t necessarily impact on employees but paying poorly is exploitation which does.

“The Ministry takes the exploitation of workers very seriously and is working proactively to crackdown on it through compliance operations targeting sectors and at risk workers across New Zealand.

“We are also working with the industry to help equip farmers with the skills and knowledge to be better employers by ensuring they get the basics right.

“We will not hesitate to take action for breaches of employment law. Breaches will be subject to compliance action and potential penalties of up to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for companies,” says Mrs Gardiner.

The Ministry encourages anyone in this situation, or who knows of anyone in this situation, to call its contact centre on 0800 20 90 20 where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment.

Federated Farmers, rightly, says the breeches aren’t acceptable:

Federated Farmers is disappointed in the findings released today by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment in their compliance operation.

Andrew Hoggard, Federated Farmers Dairy Chair, says “It is not a great look for our industry to have this number of dairy farmers not meeting the minimum employment requirements. This is why Federated Farmers has and will continue to focus on this area.”

“MBIE inspectors targeted some of the farmers who were known to have existing employment compliance concerns, while others were random, so ratios of compliance cannot be generalised to dairy farmers at large.  But this does not take away the stern reminder of where the industry is at or our motivation to achieve the task we have set ourselves to get the whole industry to achieve above minimum standards.”

“We have a significant hurdle ahead of us in terms of attracting the next generation into the industry. To me it is not just about meeting the minimum compliance under the law, but changing perceptions of the dairy industry as a career. This means we need to change the reality on some farms in a number of situations.”

Hoggard says lifting employment standards is a high priority for the Federation which has developed industry standard employment contracts and tools, such as the time and wage records, all at heavily discounted rates for members.

“The support for farmers is out there, Federated Farmers has its 0800 number along with top notch, low cost contracts for members, and DairyNZ has fantastic resources available free to levy payers.”

Federated Farmers has been taking its support on the road holding Employment Compliance Workshops’ that cover what MBIE’s minimum standards are.

“The high farmer turnouts have been encouraging, so we are looking to set up more.”

“Federated Farmers wants to take the industry well above just being compliant. That’s why we’ve been developing a Workplace Accord with DairyNZ and other industry stakeholders.”

“The Accord is about setting goals for the industry to achieve quality work environments through helping farmers implement good people management practices.”

“While there have been some aspects of employment practices that were once considered standard, things have changed and we need to change with them. However the expectation that all staff should have an employment agreement has been around for well over 20 years now so there is no excuse for not having one.”

“Failure here will not only put your business into employment law quicksand, but will cost you in productivity. It was interesting to note that those farmers who were using the IMS, MYOB and I Payroll systems were all fully compliant. So the message also goes out to those firms that provide accountancy solutions to farmers to ensure their products are as modern and easy to use as they can be.“

“Federated Farmers has industry standard contracts and agreements that include comprehensive notes on the minimum wage, holidays act, seasonal averaging, accommodation and the like.  It is also written in plain-English for farmers too. So there are systems that will help farmers stay on the right side of the law.”

“I have seen a lot of progress made, but we have a long way to go yet. Dairy farmers need to take this as a reminder about what is expected of them.

The number found in breech of the law is a small percentage of the total number of dairy farms but no exploitation of workers is acceptable.

There is no  justification for paying below the legal minimum and most work on dairy farms should be worth more than that.

Consumers are looking for sustainably produced food which encompasses responsible environmental, economic and social considerations. Being a good employer is an important part of any social standards.

 

 


Could WINZ have done more?

March 3, 2015

WorkSafe NZ is prosecuting the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) over the shooting of two WINZ staff in its Ashburton office.

The mother of a woman killed in Ashburton’s Work and Income shooting is disappointed her daughter’s employer has been charged over the incident, saying “nobody could foresee what was going to happen that day”.

WorkSafe NZ today laid a charge against the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) after the shooting on September 1 last year.

Russell John Tully, 48, was charged with the murders of Peg Noble and Susan Leigh Cleveland, and seriously wounding Lindy Curtis, at their Cass St office.

Another staff member, Kim Adams, was shot at as she ran out the back door.

WorkSafe NZ alleges the MSD failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work.

The charge, under section 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act, was laid in the Wellington District Court.

Cleveland’s mother, Kath Cleveland, said she was disappointed WorkSafe felt a charge was warranted as the shooting could not have been predicted. . .

“The only thing I can say is these WorkSafe people might see something in it that us everyday people don’t see. I don’t know if it is going to help or not,” she said.

Cleveland said her daughter never complained about feeling unsafe at work. . .

The court case will have to make the reason for the prosecution clear.

However, without any knowledge of what has motivated WorkSafe’s decision to prosecute and on the facts made public so far I am unpleasantly surprised by this decision which  will be concerning to all employers.

I have vague memories of a freezing company being prosecuted when an employee was injured as a result of a fight in its car park.

I can’t recall the details but do remember at the time wondering how it could have been the employers’ fault and that was my immediate reaction to the news of this prosecution.

Could WINZ have done more to protect its staff? That is now up to the court to determine.


Who’s a worker, what’s work?

February 19, 2015

Andrew Little was in enough trouble over his failure to pay David Cohen for his services and he was silly enough to make it worse:

. . . But referring to Mr Cohen as “a worker” has made Mr Little grumpy.

“Your commentary talked about a worker,” says Mr Little. “He was a contractor.” . .

This is the man whose first big speech of the year was supposed to appeal to a wider range of workers including small business owners.

There’s no business smaller, in terms of personnel, than that of a single contractor and if a contractor isn’t a worker the logical conclusion is that what he does isn’t work.

So who is a worker and what’s work?

The dictionary says it’s: activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result.

In the context of employment it is also done to earn payment regardless of whether you are an employee or a contractor.

Little’s quibbling over whether a contractor is a worker should serve as a warning to anyone who was mollified by the rhetoric of his speech about reaching out to a broader range of workers.

Whatever he said a couple of weeks ago has been contradicted by his grumpy quibble.

 


More than little late to pay

February 18, 2015

NBR columnist David Cohen wrote in the print edition of the paper last Friday that Labour leader Andrew Little hadn’t paid a bill he’d sent him.

Cohen had been asked to analyse Little’s communication, did so, sent the bill and followed up with phone calls and emails.

It was only yesterday, four months late and after Steven Joyce raised the matter in parliament, that Little paid up:

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce attacked Little over his stance on employment law changes after revealing Little had not settled his bill with National Business Review columnist David Cohen.

Writing in the NBR last week Cohen confirmed he did paid work for Little to help him secure the Labour leadership but four months later was still waiting for the cheque.

Joyce said he raised the overdue bill because it was important for Parliamentarians to “pay people promptly”.

Little insisted afterward that the bill had been paid – but would not confirm or deny that the payment had only been put through after Joyce raised the matter in Parliament.

“It’s been paid today.”

Little insisted afterward that the bill had been paid – but would not confirm or deny that the payment had only been put through after Joyce raised the matter in Parliament.

“It’s been paid today.”

He said the bill had been sent in good faith but went to his campaign team rather than himself.

“It was on that person’s desk and flitted around some others,” Little said.

“Had it come to me at the time he remitted it, it would have been paid at that time.”

Little would not say what time he paid the bill and whether it was after Joyce raised the issue.

“It hasn’t been paid as a result of what Steven Joyce said in the House but it’s been paid.” . . .

Can Little be blamed for the tardiness of a member of his campaign team and the others whose desks the invoice flitted around?

At least as much as it shows a problem with processes and not just in a huge hole in the way bills are dealt with but also in media monitoring.

The leader of the Labour Party won’t’ have time to read every column inch that’s written but someone in his office ought to be monitoring the media for every mention of him.

I read Cohen’s column last week and it’s difficult to believe that either no-one in Little’s office, caucus and the wider party did.

It is easier to wonder if they did and didn’t alert him.

If no-one monitors the media, or isn’t doing it properly, Little has a problem. If people who are supposed to support him read the story and didn’t tell him, he’s got an even bigger problem.

Four months is more than a little late to pay a bill, especially when you’re leading a party that purports to stand up for workers and wants to court small business people.

There’s no smaller business than a one-man one.

Update: Cohen makes this point on Radio NZ:

. . . He sent in his report and invoice four months ago.

“During that time I followed up the invoice, I called his office, I spoke with Matt McCarten, his Chief of Staff, many emails were exchanged and it became abundantly clear that the waiter had been stiffed, as it were.”

Mr Cohen said he found this ironic given Mr Little’s recent attempts to connect with small business and the self-employed.

“Andew Little has been crafting excellent speeches on the pressures felt by small business, by freelancers, by sole operators and he’s been committing himself to lessening the stress and strain that one in five New Zealanders, like me, experience.

“Now, you can’t really hold forth on these subjects and not look after your own creditors.”

Mr Joyce was being questioned by one of Mr Little’s Labour MPs about whether the government intended to take a tougher line on zero hour contracts.

Mr Joyce used that as an opportunity to take a potshot at Mr Little.

“This is obviously not a zero-hour contract.

“It could perhaps be better described as a zero-payment contract – the employer in this case being then-leadership aspirant for the Labour Party, one Andrew Little, the current Labour leader.” . .

A Chief of Staff and unionist who doesn’t understand the importance of paying bills properly?

Where’s his concern for the worker and where are his political antennae?

 

 

 


Right words no use with wrong policy

January 28, 2015

Labour leader Andrew Little’s state of the nation speech is full of lots of right words – lowest unemployment, dignity, self-respect, families, engine room will be small business, quality of life needs strong economic performance . . .

But all that is empty rhetoric if it’s not matched by the right policies.

That would include at the very least keeping, and better still extending, the 90-day trail period for new employees.

But Radio New Zealand’s 10am news report (which I can’t find on-line) said Labour would be ditching the 90-day trial period.

One of the greatest risks to a small business is the wrong employee – someone who doesn’t have the ability to do what’s required how and when it’s required and who puts more pressure on or  otherwise negatively impacts other employees.

No matter how well someone presents in interviews and how rigorous the reference checks, it’s impossible to tell how someone will fit in the workplace until s/he’s actually in it and working.

Recruiting, inducting and training new staff is a hassle which no business wants to keep doing every three-months. that would waste time, money and physical and mental energy and reduce productivity.

There hasn’t been a lot of employers abusing the process. There have been more employers taking on the risk of taking on new employees because they know they can let them go within 90 days if they aren’t right for the job.

Getting rid of the 90-day trial period would be the triumph of politics over policy that has been proven to work.

Little can carry on saying the right words but they will be meaningless if they’re followed with the wrong policy.
Andrew Little says Labour will stand up for small business. Here’s a quick pop quiz for Mr Little about where he really stands.


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