By Andrew Hoggard*
Federated Farmers believes the experience of a husband and wife farming team in Taranaki underscores why the 90-days provision is so important to small businesses.
“Yesterday a member called 0800 FARMING to alert us to a guy doing the rounds in Taranaki who may be gaming employment laws,” says Andrew Hoggard, Federated Farmers Employment spokesperson.
“He appeared to be a keen farmworker but became insistent that all he needed to start was a handshake. This guy even told the couple concerned that he could see they were under pressure so even offered to pitch his tent.
“They did exactly the right thing by getting him to sign Federated Farmers’ industry standard employment contract before starting. That’s where the bush lawyer emerged as he tried to get clauses modified.
“Lucky for them they stuck to their guns and to Federated Farmers agreement and advice. As it turns it wasn’t a long employment relationship lasting a mere 4.5 days.
“On the very first day there was a major argument over helmet use where he refused to wear one. He turned up to work another day wearing a balaclava asking if, “it intimidated them.”
“Along with a generally unhelpful demeanour it appeared to our member that he was trying to bait them into a summary dismissal.
“They called Federated Farmers 0800 327 646 advice line and followed that advice to the letter dismissing the person under the 90-days provision. His parting shot was “it’s going to cost you.”
“It shouldn’t because they stuck to the law and to Federated Farmers’ advice and contract. No matter how small or short term the role is, never “shake on it” or allow a person to start work before they have signed their employment contract.
“What concerns us is that there are bush lawyers out there who could be looking to game employment laws in order to secure a settlement from unwitting farm employers. Our member wanted this publicised to prevent other farmers from being caught out.
“It is why the 90-days provision is so important and why it would become a feeding frenzy for such people if it were to be axed.
“The 90-days provision is a crucial protection for employers to prevent them from being stuck with unscrupulous workers. Our member told us their last employee only left after four years in order to go sharemilking.
“They were fine because they had systems in place backed up by Federated Farmers’ employment contracts and member advice. If you haven’t got your systems together you seriously risk an employment law shellacking,” Mr Hoggard warned.
Andrew Hoggard is Federated Farmers employment issues spokesperson.