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Rural contractors need to bone up on employment obligations

Rural contractors need to bone up on employment obligations

Agricultural contractors need to ensure they are on top of their all employment and health and safety obligations, according to Rural Contractors New Zealand (RCNZ)

“Our industry is working hard to encourage and attract good people into the sector,” says RCNZ chief executive Roger Parton. “It is all very well having a top-of-the-line tractor, but it is not much use if there is nobody to drive it!”
He says one way of ensuring that both employers and employees have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and obligations is to have written employment agreements in place.

“It is actually a requirement of employment law to have EAs and these should be signed before any work begins.”

Mr Parton says the last thing the rural contracting sector needs is to have rogue operators treating staff poorly or putting staff at risk through unsafe work practices – earning the entire industry a bad name.

“That’s why RCNZ spends a good deal of its time and resources on ensuring we are involved with and working alongside others to improve and enhance the safety of both our members and their staff,” Mr Parton adds.

“Our organisation’s governing body recently established a health and safety sub-committee, because we recognise the growing focus on health and safety matters and want to ensure rural contractors’ views are included in any new legislation or guidelines.”

He says an example of this is the work RCNZ currently doing – alongside others – with WorkSafe NZ to ensure the opinions of rural contractors are part of any new codes of practice now being developed for the new Health and Safety Reform Bill for work done on and around farms.
“Correct employment procedures and safe workplace practice are an essential part of doing business nowadays. This is as important to the success of rural contracting today – as having the right gear to do the actual work.”
Under the HSE Act, both employers and employees must take all practicable steps to provide and keep a safe work environment.

“One way of ensuring this is to have an operating health and safety plan in place – not sitting on a shelf gathering dust,” Mr Parton explains. “Such a plan doesn’t have to be complex. It just needs to identify existing and potential hazards and put “controls” in place to manage any hazards.”
He adds that employers also need to train and/or supervise employees so they can do their job safely. Employees have a responsibility to keep themselves safe, as well as their fellow workers.

“It is not a bad idea to get an experienced worker to supervise new or untrained employees. Training helps people share knowledge and develop skills. It can also help influence behaviour and improve health and safety.”

The law says employers must also take all practicable steps to make sure employees are safe at work. This extends to providing reasonable working hours and shift patterns to reduce risks of fatigue and decreased mental and physical work tolerance.
“While the rural contracting environment can be challenging – needing long and irregular hours at certain times – employees still have a right to regular breaks and rests,” Mr Parton says. “Well-rested employees, contractors and others help make the work environment safe. It can also help you significantly reduce the personal, social and financial costs of accidents.

He adds that employers must limit workers’ shifts to a safe number of hours, ensure staff are taking regular rest breaks during shifts and, where appropriate, make food and suitable drinks available.

“RCNZ is able to provide support and help to members looking for advice on employment law and/or health and safety matters – much of this information is on our members’ area of the RCNZ website or can be obtained from me,” Roger Parton concludes.


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