21 May 2015

Plea to promote good farm employers

4:52 pm on 21 May 2015

A rural recruitment specialist says the farming sector should be identifying and celebrating good employers, not naming and shaming the bad ones.

John Fegan says a system which highlights farmers who have good employment standards is the best way to go about bringing change.

John Fegan says a system which highlights farmers who have good employment standards is the best way to go about bringing change. Photo: 123RF

This week Council of Trade Union president, Helen Kelly, has been tweeting links to farm ads which she says are for jobs paying below the minimum wage - and sometimes even below $13 an hour.

John Fegan has been a rural recruitment and HR specialist in the Waikato region for more than 20 years and while he agrees there are bad employers out there, he does not agree with what Helen Kelly is doing.

Mr Fegan believes a system which highlights farmers who have good employment standards is the best way to go about bringing change.

"We certainly introduced it as a company, and in 2007 we tried to introduce a thing called Quality Farm Employers of New Zealand, so rather than ping the bad guys, what we did try to do was promote the people that were doing more than the minimum and doing it really, really, well.

"Unfortunately we couldn't get enough legs and the industry at that stage wasn't in a place that they wanted to buy into it, but in my opinion what we should be doing is celebrating the good people and dragging up the minimum standards, rather than having to do it with a stick," said Mr Fegan.

"We've got two choices haven't we? We either do it with a stick and force them by some kind of license or we promote the good guys, so the good employees flock or trend towards the good employers, and how do they know that? Well there's some system of accreditation to say these guys are better than the average, therefore go and work with them."

Mr Fegan said farming salaries were often complex, as they could include accommodation, and he said workloads on farms varied with the seasons.

At the same time Mr Fegan said some farmers had never received employment training.

"One of the things I tend to say to people is that in our industry, we become a good farmer and because we're a good farmer, we grow, and as you grow bigger you have the staff requirement. What tends to happen is that you have a go at the staff management and then when you fail you go and get some training.

"Even when farmers are learning to farm they tend to go through the AgITO or through universities at the start of their farming career, they don't go farming, stuff it up and then go and do some training in behind it. I think farmers have tended to do staff training in the wrong order and that's probably meant that there's been more failures than there needs to be," he said.

"If they did the staff training at the start, before they employed too many people, then they'd be in a better place."

Mr Fegan said when farmers did expand, especially from one or two staff to three and more, they should seek training because it was a very different type of management.

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