Farmers urged to pay backpackers regular rates after Robinwood Farm ruling

Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard says giving volunteers experience isn't payment.

Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard says farmers should pay backpackers market rates if they want to keep a handy pool of casual labour and avoid volunteer workers.

The Employment Relations Authority ruled an organic farm near Christchurch breached worker rights by paying them $120 a week plus providing food and lodging irrespective of the hours worked, and claiming they were volunteers after a Labour Inspectorate investigation. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said in a statement that thousands of people had been exploited at the farm, working up to 40 hours a week and often as hired out labour at a profit for Robinwood Farms director and shareholder Julia Osselton.

Fed Farmers' Hoggard has drawn on backpackers to fill in on his farms, saying they're a handy resource for plugging gaps, however he's sceptical of farmers using volunteer work.

"They're often bloody good kids, keen to travel and experience things, but you've got to pay them for the work they do - giving them experience isn't payment," Hoggard said. "At the moment we've got a good pool of seasonal staff who can fill in at times, but if people start to abuse it, it gets harder and you could lose that."

The ERA ruled Robinwood Farms has to pay two former employees $2,600 each that they were owed, and broader penalties of up to $20,000 per person per breach are still under discussion, MBIE said.

Osselton claimed the workers were WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) on a cultural exchange, although Labour Inspectorate Stu Lumsden said that wasn't the case. WWOOF NZ said the farm isn't registered with the official group and had asked Osselton not to pitch her farm as such.

WWOOF NZ is part of an international network where host farmers offer food and accommodation in exchange for volunteer work by travellers often interested in learning about organic farming. The local organisation currently has about 10,000 WWOOFers, largely from Europe, the US and Australia, and that number has been relatively stable for the past couple of years, it said in an emailed statement.

Robinwood characterises itself as a WWOOFing farm on its Facebook page, something WWOOF NZ has sought to have removed.

(BusinessDesk)


16 · Got a question about this story? Leave it in Comments & Questions below.


This article is tagged with the following keywords. Find out more about MyNBR Tags

Post Comment

16 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

Remember how before the election it was all about NZ not having enough "Skilled" labour to man our farms and etc.

Looks like it was all about the price after all huh.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

Farm owners like Robinwood (Osselton) need to be chased out of the industry - the fines here are not enough!!

The shortage is a combination of a number of factors - pay rates, hours worked, physical tasks and increasingly important career pathway!

A huge amount of human capital has been lost from farming in the past 3 years - almost an entire generation of potential farmers have given up or been lost to the industry.

Reply
Share
  • 3
  • 0

Could always claim and use the "Labour Party slave labour / Electioneering Volunteers from Overseas" precedence as defence... And that you're only following the examples set by former Union Leadership and current Labour Party Election Directors with regards to "volunteeers". Even if you don't have a spacious Marae for everyone to communally sleep in.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 5

The National Party also relies heavily on volunteerism. Surely you know that?

Volunteerism has been part of politics since...heck, probably since before Ancient Greece.

Bit of a reach to conflate the exploitation of labour in NZ's hospitality, farming and other for-profit businesses with the presence of volunteerism in politics.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Given the fact that they claimed to be WWOOF and are not looks like it was a very deliberate act etc. MBIE has to throw the book at them - $40k fine might make these guys think twice in the future.

Reply
Share
  • 2
  • 0

Most farmers I would hope abide by NZ Employment Laws. However, there appears to be increasing evidence (Dairy Farms in the Waikato not paying the minimum wage nor keeping wage and time records etc.) that a few will exploit the system to take financial advantage of the many good farmers that do abide the Law.
Those farmers need to understand that workers will willingly line up at farm gate and put the word out to greater NZ that the experience was fantastic IF the pay and terms & conditions of employment were comparative to other occupations. If the experience was terrible then they word will go out - terrible pay & terrible hours of work.
Who would want to work on a farm?
Workers will work in the desert (Mining) if the pay is right or in the middle of the ocean (oil rig) - but the terms & conditions of employment have to be attractive.
The sooner Immigration NZ returns to its purpose of allowing only 'skills' into NZ rather than allowing 'labour' into NZ.
Federated Farmers are giving good advice - don't let a few spoil it for the many.
Evidence out of Australia suggests there is a big business in exploiting 'back packers' in particular by the meat companies in rural Australia.
Increasing numbers of NZ meat companies are showing some interest in Back packers etc. lead by Talley's (AFFCO) - already one horrific accident with a packpacker at AFFCO Rangiuru where they were fined $70,000 with $10,000 being paid to the backpacker

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Are not these 'backpackers' here on tourist visas? And if correct, is it legal for them to be doing paid work?

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

WOOFING has been a con from the start. I worked in 'fertilizer' in the 1990's and remember then the stories about farmers getting 'free' labour

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Normal statist drivel being peddled, I see.

Unfortunately, the Labour Department has now advertised they are to begin a brutal campaign against this form of voluntary labour for lodgings, because of one errant case, meaning that the tens of thousands of young kids who want the choice to travel NZ cheaply by working for their board, getting to know us, etc, are about to lose that option.

They lose.
We all lose.
Bureaucrats get to feel important as they piss us all about as normal.

Because government always ends by reducing our choices and our liberty, never the other way around. Just leave these kids alone. It's not their careers, they here on holiday and to have a bit of a lark.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

I agree, it really is quite insulting to assume that someone of the age and wit to travel the world cannot come to an amicable agreement with a business owner regarding work. pay and lodgings.
Even more incredulous is the belief that regulation will fix it.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

I'd say it's blue sky thinking to assume that young travelers in their late teens to early twenties possess the negotiating skills and NZ market savvy to understand the cost/benefit of some of these work for board/pay situations. On the other end of the negotiating table is a reasonably sophisticated commercial operation hell bent on slashing their labour costs.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Then that would call for "education" not "regulation"? Surely

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

This case warrants a significant statement from the Charities Commission regarding the status of volunteers.
Is the case capable of being a precedent for fines to Charities for receiving donations of labour?
If not, what is the distinction between this case and a legitimate charity?
Under what circumstances does the Labour party wish to retrospectively deem arrangements to be contracts for employment?
What is the forecasted effect of this on charitable works?

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Sad to see, but not representative of the wwoofing system from what I have seen. We've hosted wwoofers (travellers looking for homestay/farmstay and organic gardening experience on volunteer work basis in return for room/board) for a number of years. They stay in the house, eat meals with us, become a short-term "member of the family", and do some gardening with us - sometimes they teach us a new gardening trick or two from their homeland, and sometimes vice versa. It would be cheaper to hire a university student labourer for the amount of output you get from most of them, but that's not really the point. We could happily get by without any extra help, but we've made some good friends and hope we've sown some seeds of new ideas about how to live more closely to the land and one's food supply.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

Exactly, Rambler.

The trouble with govt is it's always one size fits all.

These a kids. This is a cheap way for them to travel and meet us all. Their careers aren't jeopardised: they're on holiday on the cheap, they will go home to higher education and careers. Everything here is voluntary.

It's that last govt really hates, so this worthy tradition, I'm afraid, based on a single case and a kneejerk reaction, is about to be destroyed.

Everyone loses (other than a few busybody bureaucrats).

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Correct. Government attempts the ridiculous. Regulations to try and prevent the conduct of idiots. Nanny State? Police State? Whatever!

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Post New comment or question

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.