A Waikato dairy farmer, husband and father of four says his family lost everything this season after a contract milking agreement went “completely wrong”. He shared his views on condition of anonymity.
OPINION: I am a contract milker. I have also been lower order sharemilking.
While I think these are great avenues for dairy farmers to progress or build themselves up to farm ownership, there is a dark side to this industry that we don’t like to talk about.
As a contract milker, I am paid a fixed amount for every kilogram of milksolids I send to the factory.
As well as the normal expenses that go with operating a business, I have an agreed set of additional expenses.
The norm would be power, labour, shed detergents, rubberware, fuel and motorbikes.
I rely heavily on the farm owner to provide me with figures as to what those costs may be but in my experience, farm owners often don’t know or are reluctant to provide those figures.
We are lucky in this industry that we can often find others in our position who are willing to share this information with their fellow contract or lower order sharemilkers.
But what happens if we can’t find those figures? We give it our best guess and we take those figures to the bank, where finance is approved based on those numbers.
So the bank has approved our lending, we have signed the contract and started work. We’ve managed to drag ourselves through calving and mating and can see light at the end of the tunnel.
Now those figures, those numbers, those best guesses are actuals – they have meaning and substance and they are wrong.
The situation only gets worse. What happens to those that get it all wrong or were given wrong information? Surely if the owners gave them those numbers, they must be entitled to some sort of compensation?
No, they are not, because the contracts and the current legislation are structured in a way which protects the farm owners and not the little guy.
Not the guy who has put his family’s whole livelihood on the line. Not the guy who has workers depending on him to pay them on time. Not the guy out in the rain, working long days to keep the farm running.
What rights does he have? None. He can lose everything. Because he is not an employee, he has no employment rights, so he does not get holiday pay or weekends off.
He does not have the right to subcontract out his job or determine how performs his duties.
When you look at the difference between an independent contractor and an employee, you can see that contract and lower order sharemilking is a grey area that falls into both categories.
That being the case, we need a complete overhaul. We need rights.
We need to be able to expect to be paid for our work, regardless of whether or not that person has the skills or ability to guess what his power bill will be.
He should not have to have his spouse work every weekend, holiday and public holiday just to earn his expected wage.
This is the dark side of dairy and the industry cannot afford to lose these young, energetic and passionate people.
We are better than that. We pride ourselves on being the backbone of this country.
Do we not as a community gather together and support each other, share our knowledge with one another? Help one another when our neighbour is in trouble?
Even if we have no legal obligation right now, surely we have a moral obligation to our new generation of farmers to give them the opportunity to make their mark on our industry.
We are asking – demanding – that the legislation and contracts are changed so these farmers have the chance they deserve to provide for their families and continue to grow our industry.
Let’s leave this dark side of dairy behind us once and for all.