Most farmers will know the history and meaning behind June first being labelled ‘Gypsy Day’ — not a reference to the Romany travellers of Europe, but a nod to the migration of farming families in early times here in New Zealand. Leading up to the traditional day of farm sales and new contracts, many families packed up their herd and all their belongings, walking the ‘long acre’ to greener pastures.
Today that’s all been changed, but Gypsy Day is still a time for fresh starts. One of the most important comes with the new contracts drawn up for sharemilkers and new staff on dairy farms, which are equal parts home and business in the modern age.
With the introduction of new employment laws this April, 2017 it is definitely a year for concentrating on the details when it comes to farming employment contracts. Amendments to the Employment Act 2000 mean that there’s new ground to cover, ensuring that all parties know their rights and obligations and understand the nature of particulars of the contract they are entering into. It may have an impact well beyond this week of change and new enterprises — indeed, contracts agreed upon now could form the basis for whole farming futures.
One major change covers the issue of hours — which must be agreed upon early, rather than on the fly. This requirement for clear definition of hours means that if there is a requirement to be available in busy periods, such as calving, silage making time or harvest, it must be documented along with equitable compensation for workers. This may be difficult to predict in an industry at the mercy of Mother Nature, so good advice is key. This new nuance to the law may see the end of seasonal averaging in many roles, as inaccuracies might cause an employee’s wage to ‘dip’ below the legislated minimum.
Thankfully, the hard work of comprehending and unpacking the new changes to our employment laws has already been done — local lawyers and advisers have been poring over the technical points well in advance to ensure a smooth as possible transition this Gypsy Week. Farmers undertaking new contracts and unsure of their next move are well advised to seek assistance, as a little work now alongside a professional may save grief later in the year. Putting ‘best practice’ procedures in place now will mean an easier time hiring and retaining good staff this year and into the future.