Pay decision misses the point

The NFF is crowing about the decision to defer pay increases for employees of farmers in EC-declared areas one day, then is saying there is a need for 50,000 extra workers in agriculture the next. Join the dots guys! Agriculture has to realise it is up against stiff competition, especially from the resources sector, and that massive improvements in employee conditions is neededed if a vast skill shortage is to be avoided.

Picture this scenario if a farmer exploits the Fair Pay Commission ruling and defers the pay increases. You are a young rural fella from an area that has done it tough through the drought and are looking for employment. You've done a bit of casual work around the place and are pretty handy on most of the big machinery.

Let's take a look at your options. You could stay local and take sporadic work where it comes up, with no guarantee of security for a cocky who is going to pay you under the award wage for everyone else in the country, or you could head for the mines, where your skills will be put to good use and you can earn yourself a regular pay packet your old man, who has worked in farmhand jobs all his life, would never have dreamed of. It's not really a tough decision, is it?

The NFF has completely missed the point on this. At the grassroots level, farmers have already acknowledged the dearth of farm labour and are ensuring job security for good workers, even though there may not strictly be 12 months' worth of work for their employee. They are flexible and offer good conditions, realising that they cannot compete on wage alone. It is this sort of approach that will keep young kids in their home district, ensuring the viable of rural communities in the long-term - not gloating over the fact they can legally stitch them up for a few dollars less each week.

We all know how hard the drought has been, and that people are feeling the pinch - but land owners aren't the only ones in rural communities doing it tough.

Rural workers are the first to feel it when work at the local bunker or putting in crop dries up - and it is no coincidence it is these blokes flocking to the mines in their droves, lured by the promise of a regular fat pay packet.

Farmers need to be creative and think outside the square to keep their workforce. Instead of indulging in the upstairs, downstairs attitude of the NFF, the vast majority of primary producers are instead working franticaly to ensure they retain good staff. And that ain't by paying under the odds and expecting workers to cop it on the chin.

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Paul Zlotkowski
18/07/2007 4:24:16 PM

I would like to see the NFF organise speakers to talk to young people in schools located in areas where there is generational unemployment, such as Macquarie Fields in NSW. The speakers should give an overview of the wonderful oppertunities that exist in primary production and encourage these young people to fill the many vacancies in the agricultural and pastoral colleges across the country.
Rex Davis
18/07/2007 5:04:16 PM

It all sounds good but farmers MUST pay their workers appropriatley for the long hours they are expected to work. They are also (often) expected to work and live in inappropriate conditions and these areas need to be addressed. I have personally witnessed (on numerous occassions) farmers complaining about being broke and next week turn up home with a top of the line Cruiser or a new tractor, this does not send a good message to their employees. So until a certain percentage of farmers get out of the dark ages and catch up with the 21st century, young people will continue to go to the mines and to the coast in search of better pay and conditions. I would love to see these young people being retained in agriculture and other rural enterprises and help reduce the importation of workers.
18/07/2007 9:33:13 PM

O.M.G. Or translated to 'old style' means Oh My God. And here's why. Just the other day I travelled home for our district Show. I’m in my late 20s now, and I’m still hearing that same ole story. "We can’t find staff. The only staff get are useless bastards. Nobody wants to work anymore." Nowadays the only difference is "the mines took them all". I’m not sure why all my kinfolk are missing the irony here, but here's a demonstrated example of my point: Pastoralists from my region seek general or supervisory-level staff that are responsible, take initiative, and can think for themselves. They want staff that can make decisions, can work unsupervised and can take instructions while still remaining part of a team. And most of all they want staff who'll work hard. And who would challenge that? Fair enough, I say. So, an applicant answers the above criteria. Here is what happens in 'our country'. That staff member is told when to eat, what to eat, when to sleep, when to wake up, when to make phone calls, how long they can be and you can forget about a social life ... here's what you can drink, home much and when to drink. Work plans are communicated at the final moment, and god help you if you want to attend your brother's wedding during the season. "That would put us all out". Being told what to do is fair enough; but how you will do it and "if you don’t do it my way you're useless" is another thing. So much for taking initiative. A sick day means you can’t leave your room - obviously you're well enough to work "you bludger, I haven’t had a day off in years". Town trips mean you don’t 'play up' because it’s "our reputation", and by the way, find your own accommodation even thought we charge you board and keep. Relationships are saved for town trips, "you're here to work", and friendships are saved for your workmates. I could go on, but I think you get the drift. I accept NOT all employers are as controlling as this, but its no secret that this sort of culture is normal for our region; so even if the practices aren’t as heavy-handed, the underlying principles are still there. The point is, the mines haven’t 'stolen' our labour force. Our labour force has made a choice regarding their own quality of life, and I don’t blame them one bloody bit. If the rural industry wants to address this situation they could start by TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for it. How can we change a culture by blaming the tallest poppy?

Great point.

Agricultural employers have to realise they aren't outside the wider employment framework and must compete in an open labour market.

Getting 'a pound of flesh', in a case such as you described, may help a business in the short-term, but down the track does a great deal more harm than good.

Employers must realise as well as acting for their own business they have a responsibility as ambassadors for their industry.

Posted by moderator: Gregor Heard on 24/07/2007 5:46:52 PM
Grain Farmer
3/08/2007 7:25:57 PM

I can only comment from our perspective on this topic. The reason we can't compete with the mining industry is because we are not being paid enough for our product. Until that situation changes the agriculture sector will fail to attract quality staff. As one example of what is occuring - we applied for an export license in the '06/07 season to export noodle wheat to Japan at a premium of $60.00/t to the AWB's national pool. The license was rejected by McGauran and cost us $120,000 in lost income. We can see exactly the same scenario developing this season so farmers will once again be forced to accept a lower price for their export wheat, so the cycle continues! Of course farmers must pay their workers appropriately and of course employees should live in appropriate conditions but until we receive maximum dollar for our product we will not be employing at all. In our case it is that simple!
Grain of TruthRural Press grains writer Gregor Heard on the big issues facing the broadacre farmers today.


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