Helen Kelly’s Column

helen kellyDairy farmers slated for paying workers poorly; neglecting training

Helen Kelly, President of the Trade Unions Council, has condemned NZ’s dairy industry for paying poor wages and failing to provide decent training for workers – despite the recent boom times.

She says the average pay in dairy farming actually decreased last year while the average number of working hours increased.

Here is her latest column, making poins which were delivered to the Labour Party Congress last weekend.

While farmers incomes go up, workers suffer decrease in pay

By Helen Kelly, Trade Unions Council President

Can you believe that? A decrease in remuneration in dairy – and let me tell you that the wages are already low with the average hourly rate for a dairy at only $18.44 per hour over all jobs.

  • And 67% of farmers said they had provided no formal training to their staff at all last year.
  • And 42% of dairy farm workers had less than one year’s experience, with 87% less than five years!

I am not a fan, it is true to say, of farm employment practices, but this is actually bad for our farming industry. It is a failure in one of our most important sectors – in one of the select few industries that the Government actually fawns over, panders to, changes the minimum wages calculation for it, allows it to bring in migrant workers freely – meaning 20% of the lowest skilled jobs are filled with migrants.

The Government huffs and  puffs about the 38 deaths in the sector in the last two years and takes only two prosecutions. This is a  disaster!

This industry needs employment law that forces it to consider collectively the interests of its workers through collective bargaining and allows it to plan for its future workforce needs. Collective bargaining will ensure workers get a fair share and in turn builds a sustainable trained safe secure workforce – including in the dairy sector’s own interests.

I said this is a just-in-time election. Bo, it has been a tough six years for working people. They have seen their rights as workers depleted at the same time as being hard hit by the severe global financial crisis which destroyed job after job. And the impact of those law changes have been real.

Poor deal for earthquake workers

And what about that other booming sector – construction? Fifty percent of the workers engaged in the Canterbury rebuild are on labour hire contracts. That is they are contracted not by construction firms, but by third parties that offer them day to day work in many cases.

Let’s look at one of these big companies – New Zealand Labour Hire Limited – it has an 0800 number – ‘0800 muscle’. And it appears that is how it sees its workers – simply muscle.

I have one of their standard contracts – firstly you have to agree that out of your first pay will come

  • $18 for a high-vis vest
  • $20 for a hard hat
  •  $70 for boots.

Then they charge you a delivery fee for the gear of $50.

Of course the law requires safety gear like this to be provided by the employer – but what labour hire worker is in a position to enforce that! Next you have to agree to pay for your own site safe passport – that’s another $130 – basic health and safety training, and for ease this comes out of your pay too.

Labour hire workers get no reciprocity from the construction companies that benefit from their labour. And they get no industry training.

This year ACC entitlement claims by labour hire workers have hit a rate of 30 a week and I understand a number of these workers are being turned away by ACC as the employer claims they were self-employed and should have paid levies – much to their surprise!

There will be very little chance of workplace rehabilitation for these workers as they have no job to return to.

It’s a crock – its working life when a Government removes work rights and rewards short termism.

This is what work is like in National’s so called Rock Star economy!