Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Workplace solutions start with the boss

Neal Wallace
Sector needs to offer today’s farm worker better incentives and conditions, leaders say.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The continued shortage of dairy farm workers is causing stress for farm owners and managers, say sector leaders.

Rural Support Trust Waikato chair Neil Bateup said the shortage stems from poor public perceptions that discourage people from careers in the industry despite the ample opportunities. 

The sector also needs to adjust to the intergenerational change in employment expectations.

“It’s not something people are looking to get into when they compare milking cows at weekends when their friends are not working.”

Bateup said more work is needed on staff rosters, hours worked and time off to make the industry an attractive place to work.

“Farming should be fun.”

Some owners still expect staff to work 60- to 80-hour weeks, but Southland Federated Farmers dairy chair Jason Herrick said younger generations do not want to work excessive hours, and migrant dairy farm workers have different values and expectations.

He said employers are obliged to provide pastoral care for workers who may have social issues or limited education in what is an increasingly complex industry.

Waikato Federated Farmers dairy chair Matthew Zonderop said stress levels among the region’s dairy farmers are higher than usual, albeit partially masked by exceptional summer growth.

“Even though we have got grass and are making lots of supplementary feed, this is masking the high cost of production.”

Production on most Waikato dairy farms is on par or below last season, which Zonderop said is remarkable given an exceptionally wet winter.

That slow start will impact contract and sharemilkers, with retrospective payments during the off season lower than previous years due to the low early season farmgate payment and production.

He said the lack of quality relief milkers is also adding to farmer stress.

DairyNZ people manager Jane Muir said causes of stress are specific to each farm situation and could be personal, financial and environmental factors.

She said DairyNZ’s annual employee survey reveals those working for corporate-owned farms tend to feel less connected to their community and are less inclined to recommend their job to a friend.

Muir said one issue that continues to resonate in the sector is a shortage of skilled pr capable staff.

“Capability is a really big challenge.

“These issues create similar outcomes for farmers as being short staffed,” she said.

Employers with favourable management practices usually find it easier to recruit staff and word soon gets around the sector about who are excellent employers and who are not.

Muir said factors such as pay, hours of work, rosters, workplace culture, interaction with staff, training and development are all factors employers need to consider.

Despite these challenges, Muir believes the sector is slowly becoming a desirable sector in which to work.

“I think we are slowly winning. 

“We need to not accept any behaviour that is below the line of what is expected because it lets everybody down.”

DairyNZ will soon launch its annual employee survey and next month will hold People Expos in Invercargill, Northland, Pahiatua and Rotorua.

The Southland Rural Support Trust is holding three wellbeing and mental fitness tools for young rural men starting on 27 February.

The workshops will focus on health, body and mind, resilience and purpose.

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