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Getting to Grips with employment law on Gypsy Day

Getting to Grips with employment law on Gypsy Day

30/05/2014

Dairy farm employers need to focus on making sure that new staff are properly documented and employee rights are fully protected on Gypsy Day, says Melissa Vining, Agri HR Consultant with Progressive Consulting, the Human Resources division of Crowe Horwath.

Traditionally one of the biggest days in the dairying calendar, Gypsy Day falls on June 1 and marks the start of the new season when farms are bought and sold, and new sharemilking contracts signed. This year it falls on a long weekend.

“Some dairy farmers have been getting a bad rap in the media recently following the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s labour inspectorate visits, where 31 out of 44 farms were found to be in breach of minimum employment rights,” said Ms Vining.

Ms Vining said she believed that often the issue came down to farmers not understanding seasonal averaging and failing to keep accurate time and wage records.

In seasonal averaging, an employer averages out pay across a season irrespective of hours worked, so that employees have a dependable income when work hours are low. For example, some farm workers may only work 20 hours during the winter, then work up to 90 hours during calving, yet receive the same salary. However, if any salary payment falls below the minimum wage for the hours actually worked, a top-up payment needs to be made.

“A lot of farmers are simply unaware of their obligations,” said Ms Vining. “Employers must pay at least the minimum wage, $14.25 for an adult, for each hour worked, each day worked, and each week worked.”

In addition, an employer cannot offset obligations to pay the minimum wage during the busy season by saying the employee received more than the minimum wage during the low season, she said, adding that benefits such as wet weather gear, meat and firewood cannot be used to make up any shortfall in the minimum wage.

Ms Vining said that employers should use timesheets to keep track of the hours employees are working. “That way they will know when they need to top up an employee’s wage to meet the minimum wage,” she said.

Other key points for employers to watch include:

Crowe Horwath (NZ) Limited is a member of Crowe Horwath International, a Swiss verein. Each member firm of Crowe Horwath is a separate and independent legal entity.

Employment Agreements. All staff should have a written employment agreement, which should be signed by the employee before they move into the farm accommodation and prior to their first day of work. Ideally these should be individualised agreements to capture issues, such as the supply of wet weather gear, accommodation allowances, how holiday pay is calculated and what to do when the employment relationship ends.

Trial Periods. A 90-day trial period can only be used for new employees who have never worked for that employer before. The trial period must be agreed up front and included in

the written agreement. If the agreement is not signed before work commences then the trial period will not be legally binding.

Farmers who have employees leaving over the Gypsy Day weekend also need to ensure they calculate and pay the final salary including any holiday pay within the agreed pay period.

“One of the key messages for when you are saying goodbye or hiring staff, is to make sure you have a good understanding of your obligations as an employer, get professional advice if you’re unsure, and put processes in place that support best practice,” said Ms Vining.

ENDS

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