Farmers say employment law can be cumbersome when it comes to
dealing with staff who breach animal welfare standards, and
are calling for simpler rules.
But advisers say if employers create the right working
environment and have sound rules and procedures in place,
dealing with such matters can be relatively straightforward.
Federated Farmers employment spokeswoman Katie Milne raised
the issue earlier this month after the results came in from a
survey of its members.
She said members felt employment law failed when it came to
animal welfare issues and some had been ''burnt'' by the
system when trying to protect their animals from abuse or
Almost 20% said they had to dismiss an employee because of an
animal welfare issue, and of those, 64% said they paid out
the employee because it was easier and less expensive than
taking them to court, Ms Milne said.
But if there were no repercussions for the offending, the
person could continue to mistreat animals, she saidAbout half
of those who responded to the survey thought the employment
law was not fair to employers, and 12% thought it was.
''If farmers don't trust or understand the employment law
system, then how are they going to protect themselves from
employees who are not only killing stock in inhumane ways but
behaving aggressively to staff and their employer?'' Ms Milne
DairyNZ people team leader Jane Muir said the key difficulty
for farmer employers was they were ''caught between'' two
laws - the Employment Relations Act and the Animal Welfare
Ms Muir said it was critical sound employment systems;
contracts, policies and procedures around animal welfare
standards were established at the outset of the employment
relationship and the correct processes followed.
If the employment contract specifies an animal welfare breach
is serious misconduct punishable by instant dismissal, then
that process is there to be followed if necessary, she said.
However, it was important to ''begin the discussion'' with
workers even earlier than that. Expectations could be made
''very clear'' at the job interview and Ms Muir said using a
skills-based interview would help.
''Create that first sense in the interview that treating
animals with kindness is an important value you have.
''Ask them to do a milking ... look for their stock sense.
Keep it [animal welfare] at the forefront in staff meetings
... and lead by example.''
Employers could not assume everyone understood what was
acceptable and so should spend the time explaining standards
in detail and educating staff.
It was time-consuming but would save trouble in the long run
if issues had to be dealt with, she said.
''If they [employers] have set that up, they are in a greater
position of strength; if they haven't had those discussions
their path, will be more complex when it comes to employment
law.''As well, the onus was on employers to watch for signs
of fatigue and stress in employees, keep them involved and
let them know they were valued.
''People in a positive frame of mind are less likely to
Those who were fatigued or stressed found it ''easier'' to
mistreat animals, especially if they thought it might speed
things up, she said.
Canterbury has had more than its share of crises and people,
including employers, had needed to step up and do more.
Most people were happy to do that for a while but it was
important it not become routine and for employers to remember
employment contracts worked both ways, Ms Muir said.
Lincoln University employment relations senior lecturer
said, in terms of employment law, the contract should
stipulate the highest standard of animal husbandry was
required of a worker and it should have ''a neat, concise
clause'' which deemed any form of cruelty serious misconduct
for which immediate dismissal was the outcome.
If such an occasion should arise, the farmer might prefer to
suspend pending investigation, to ''save having to eat humble
pie later'', and then follow the process as necessary.
''And there is nothing cumbersome about that.
''Farmers need to get their act together.''
Dr Tipples is conducting a research programme addressing
issues of fatigue and the implications for accident rates,
poor decision-making and lost productivity.
Often the employer needed to ''go back a stage'' and look at
what could have contributed to an animal welfare breach, he
They needed to ask whether it had occurred because the
individual was innately bad or cruel or was it because the
person was fatigued or stressed or under too much pressure
and so they took that out on the animals or people around
For more information, go to: www.federatedfarmers.co.nz