Migrant workers 'loyal, trustworthy, committed'

When Dutch woman Marika Gerhards travelled to New Zealand and began a new life just over two years ago, she could not have predicted one day she would be employing migrant workers.

A primary school teacher in the Netherlands, Miss Gerhards was taking a break from her job and travelling through Australia and New Zealand when she arrived at the home of a friend's uncle and aunt and never left.

It was May 2007, and she had arrived at the Waimate home of Aad and Wilma van Leeuwen, owners of the van Leeuwen Dairy Group.

With little previous farming experience, she took the bull by the horns and in her first crack at calf rearing she helped rear 3500 calves.

Now, she and partner Rodney van Leeuwen are farm managers of van Leeuwen Home 1 farm, winter-milking 800 cows.

It is a busy farm where they calve four times a year as their contribution to the group's wider operation.

This season the farm employs four workers - one New Zealander, two Brazilians and a Sri Lankan worker.

Mr van Leeuwen said the operation had been hiring migrant workers for several years because of the lack of New Zealanders willing to take jobs on dairy farms.

"They stay, they are loyal, trustworthy and committed.

"They care about their jobs and the farm," Miss Gerhards said.

The van Leeuwen Dairy Group used various recruitment agencies to find their workers.

However, the Brazilian workers just "walked in the door" having heard about the van Leeuwen farm by word of mouth, Miss Gerhards said.

Miss Gerhards said her own experiences as a migrant and her teacher training helped her when it came to communicating with the migrant workers.

Language barriers made some tasks difficult - "you can't just pick up the radio".

She concentrated on teaching the workers one job at a time and once they had mastered that she would begin training them in another role.

Miss Gerhards said she had found using the whiteboard, as a visual display, helped with communication, and the new workers were usually teamed up with a buddy.

The couple said they had learnt some key words for the job in their employee's language.

The farm allowed workers the time off to attend English classes and assisted them with AgITO programmes.

The couple also encouraged their employees to join in social activities - they drove them to cricket and football practices, and encouraged them to join the Young Farmers club.

The couple said employing migrant labour had not been without its challenges.

Some people coming through recruitment agencies had neither the qualifications nor work experience the agency had said they did.

"Some had never seen a cow before," he said.

And there was a lot more administrative work to make sure the paperwork was right, Miss Gerhards said.

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