September 4, 2008

Farmers Outraged By Wage Demands


SHORT-STAFFED dairy farmers were being exploited by southern farm workers demanding "ridiculous" wages, industry insiders said.

However, Amalgamated Workers Union secretary Calvin Fisher said the union was still hearing many cases of workers being exploited by the farmers and it was "still like the wild west, to be honest" .

Director of dairy farm workers recruitment company Greener Horizons Workforce Peter Macfarlane said some southern farm workers with little experience were demanding up to $50,000 a year plus free accommodation from farmers struggling to attract staff.

This was about $15,000 a year more than would normally be paid, he said.

The farm workers, who sources said worked anywhere between 50 and 60 hours a week on average over a year, were attempting to cash in on the booming dairy industry and record dairy payouts.

Mr Macfarlane said some farmers were paying extraordinary money to get inexperienced New Zealand farm workers.

"There are people out there exploiting the situation because of the staff shortage. They are asking to get paid way more than their skills and ability deserve." Union secretary Calvin Fisher said when the industry had the ability to exploit farm workers it didn't hesitate.

"There's plenty of farmers who, by reputation, can't attract staff now because of the way they have treated workers in the past," he said. Though there were some good farm employers, the industry had been slow to respond to reasonable employment practices and had "exhausted people off the industry" , he said.

Dairy farm workers started at 4am and worked huge hours, Mr Fisher said.

Five Rivers sharemilker Scott Christensen, who employs two Filipino workers and is about to hire a third, said he had turned away New Zealand workers because he couldn't afford them.

"They weren't very qualified.

They just wanted a lot of money to do the job because everyone is short-staffed," he said.

Federated Farmers Southland dairy section chairman Rod Pemberton said unemployment was low in Southland and there were not enough Kiwi workers to fill the positions on the dairy farms.

"A young person starting out of school can almost demand more pay on a dairy farm than someone that's gone to university and got a law degree," he said.

The shortage also meant young workers were being promoted above their level of ability, which was having consequences for animal welfare and farm productivity, he said.

The Southland Times reported last week that southern dairy farmers planning to recruit overseas had been left high and dry this season because of changes in the way Immigration New Zealand policy was now being interpreted.

Many workers had failed to meet the tougher criteria and up to 500 workers had had their visa applications declined, it was reported.

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