Farm workers are earning more

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Farm workers are earning more money.

The last 12 months saw a modest rise in farm employee salaries according to the 2017 Federated Farmers-Rabobank farm employee remuneration survey.

The mean salary for employees on grain farms rose by 2.3 per cent, and 1.8 per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively for those on sheep/beef and dairy farms.

Federated Farmers' employment spokesman Andrew Hoggard said it was "positive" to see salaries creeping upwards, given the tough economic conditions experienced by farmers in recent years.

"Many farming operations experienced a difficult 2016, and as a result we weren't expecting to see much movement in salaries from last year's report, especially given that survey responses were collected in late 2016 and early 2017, at a time of low farm income," he said.

"At the time survey responses were being collected the recovery in dairy prices was well under way, but farmers were yet to see the cash flow benefit materialise.

"Sheep and beef farmers were also experiencing low returns over this period, and this will have impacted farm employee salary decisions."

While there had been small decreases in the mean salaries in some of the 15 roles surveyed, it was pleasing to see the overall mean had risen across all farming sectors.

The survey found salary rises were more common for junior positions, and there "quite a big jump" (4 per cent) for shepherds.

"Given that non-monetary benefits often make up a farm employee's total package, such as food, accommodation and power, the total package is still very competitive in comparison to other off-farm roles," Mr Hoggard said.

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The survey also found the average working week was still relatively high at close to 44 hours, but it had fallen since the last survey in some roles. The average weekly hours worked by entry level staff on dairy farms fell for the second consecutive year, from 43 to 42, down from 45 two years ago.

That, Mr Hoggard said, meant a higher hourly wage, and suggested that some farmers were getting better at managing their rosters to reduce the workload on staff.

"Farming requires hard work at certain times of the year, and that's unlikely to change, but generally staff should be working reasonable hours to enable a work-life balance," he said.

The use of written employment agreements had increased to more than 90 per cent of permanent employees, and 96 per cent in the dairy industry.

The previous year's figure was 88 per cent.

Another key finding was the high percentage of employers who were finding it difficult to recruit staff.

Forty per cent of all farm work employers said it was not very easy or not at all easy to find staff, although 75 per cent were satisfied with the performance and capability of the people they did employ.

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