Employment agreements crucial this Gypsy Day

In an industry renowned for seasonal averaging, it is important dairy farmers focus on ensuring all current and new employees have the correct employment agreements, especially with the introduction of new employment laws in April.

With Gypsy Day just around the corner, it marks the start of a new season when farms are bought and sold, and new sharemilking contracts signed. Dairy farmers need to ensure employment agreements are understood and agreed upon, to make certain that the employer and employee are both fully protected and aware of their rights. This is particularly important this year with amendments being made to the Employment Relations Act 2000.

The amendment to the Employment Relations Act 2000 ensures that hours are clearly defined and agreed upon in employment agreements, and if there is a requirement to be available in busy periods, such as calving, it needs to be documented along with adequate compensation for the employee.

With the amount of hours significantly varying for dairy farm workers across the season, it is a tough field for employers to navigate, and there is a need for flexibility and good advice. Previously farmers have defaulted to using seasonal averaging, as it provides the employee with a dependable income when work hours are low; however, it can often leave workers short of meeting minimum wage requirements during the high season of calving when they work long days.

A lot of farmers are simply unaware of their obligations. The amendment means employers must not only pay at least the minimum wage for every hour worked; they must also ensure hours of work are clearly defined, with adequate compensation outside of these hours if they are required to be available.

With many farmers taking on new employees, an important issue to note is that if employers do not have the employment agreements signed prior to the first day of work, the 90-day trial period is not valid for the employer. This trial period can only be used on new employees.

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 and are pragmatic at managing your farming business.

This press release provides general information only, current at the time of dissemination. Any advice in it has been prepared without taking into account your personal circumstances. You should seek professional advice before acting on any material.