Fast Facts

Employment law amendments undermine flexibility, goodwill

It’s a huge positive that proposed amendments to employment laws retain the 90-day trial period for employers with 19 or fewer staff, but it would be even better if it remained available to enterprises of all sizes.

That was a key point Federated Farmers put to the Education and Workforce Select Committee, which was hearing submissions on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill.

Feds Dairy chair Chris Lewis said the 90-day trial provisions are highly valued by farmers as a means of giving them confidence to take on staff when the potential applicant has no experience, or a history of anti-social behaviour or poor job performance.

“Anyone can turn over a new leaf but without the security of the 90-day trial business owners can end up paying the cost of giving someone a chance.”

Most farmers employ only a handful of staff but the Federation’s submission said it would be “unfortunate” if this option is removed for larger companies “because it is exactly those businesses that can afford to put resources into extra training and support for those who need it”.

The Federation’s farmer members do not have a hire/fire mentality, Chris told the committee. Many find it hard to attract staff to remote areas, and work hard to bring along employees who have the right attitude. The Federation’s employment contracts are industry-leading, and farmers make use of an 0800 service and peer-to-peer advice, as they strive to be fair employers moving staff along a career pathway.

The Federation’s submission said too many clauses in the Bill pit employer and employee against one another rather than facilitating an environment for negotiation and agreement.

For example, farmers had no quibble that employees are entitled to paid rest and meal breaks but proposed amendments say that unless employer and employee agree an alternative in advance, such breaks must be taken at times set out in the Bill. This is “unduly restrictive,” Chris said, because unexpected situations can arise on the farm.

“If a cow requires attention during calving, or there is an urgency to finish harvest before rain sets in, it is reasonable for an employer to ask that an employee works on for a reasonable amount of time, and recoups their entitlement elsewhere.”

Farmers have no objection to employees joining a union or any other association, but current provisions in the Act requiring union representatives to obtain the permission of the business owner before entering the workplace should be kept.

“These farm properties are our homes,” Chris said.

On top of that farmers are being bombarded with messages to treat their property as a fortress because of biosecurity risks – most recently the devastating cow disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Health and Safety is another reason why visitors should be briefed and escorted into work areas. “Given the hazards on farm, the presence of an individual who is in what could be a very large area without the knowledge or permission of anyone else on the farm is extremely dangerous.”

Source: Federated Farmers

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