Farm EmploymentWednesday, Jun 27, 2001
Dr Clive Dalton made an important point in today’s news. Employment problems on the farm are the
It is clear from research that “farming sucks” in the minds of many potential employees.
Why that should be so, probably requires a complex social analysis, but in crude farmer terms we
are poor employers because we are inconsistent. We are really inconsistent when we are very bad employers
and just a little better when we are good.
Sure there are examples of individual farmers with good employment records who use systems and structures
to ensure that their staff are well managed, well trained, well rewarded and appreciated but
most of these examples realize how fragile the employment relationship is particularly when promotion
prospects are limited for capable junior members on multi staffed properties.
Right now farmers see opportunities for expansion in a wide range of areas. It is a basic economic principle
that the more one receives for a product the more one can spend to profitably produce that
product and generally the key constraint after capital is labour. Staff to carry out the ever-increasing
ranges of skilled technical tasks demanded by new machinery, new systems and new livestock
And in the mad scramble to secure labour, generally well after the capital has been arranged and expended
and the project committed, farmer employers, tend to make offers or imply benefits in the future
“ïf” X happens just to get another pair of hands.
This is not unique to farmers as Ms Rankin and the Public Service Chiefs are currently sorting out this
problem for similar reasons – the “if” meant different things to the employer
and the employee – an inconsistency that brought about dissatisfaction nonetheless.
But even worse if economic or environmental conditions change as they often do in farming, for instance
in a drought – where does the first cutback occur? Staff positions are terminated. A further
inconsistency in an employment offer of a “permanent” position.
These inconsistencies are the reality of the employment environment. On one hand professionals are claiming
that training of both employer and employee is the answer and on the other a core of farmers
who consider staff should be dragooned into employment for three feeds a day and a bit of shelter.
Our task as employers is to manage these inconsistencies better. Better in the sense that each farm
business accepts that employment is a key input that requires particular attention on the farm rather
than expecting off farm influences to make the situation right.