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Dairy workers should be paid a fair wage and treated as people – not resources

Jon Heslop from CEO group, talks to farmers about being better staff managers.

Dairy industry workers need to be treated as people and not resources when they work on farms, and should have regular days off, say industry experts.

About 70 people wanting to be better employers in the dairy industry found out the best ways to employ people at a DairyNZ People Expo in Palmerston  North. Experts advised that staff needed their hours of work managed so fatigue was not a factor,

Fonterra manager of social responsibility Matt Trent  said it was good to see farmers giving up their time to find out how they could be better employers to attract good staff.

He said employees talked among themselves and knew who were the good and bad employers.

“People will care about your dairying business when you care about them.”

He said valuing people and treating them well was important.

“Just saying thank you to an employee when they have done a good job. And paying them a fair wage, and not working them too hard.I guess it is those sorts of things, and not treating them as a resource but as a person.”

Trent said staff needed to feel safe.

“There are times, such as calving when farms are busy.There are times when people work hard, and I think everyone knows that. Most people want to do a good job and be thanked for doing a hard job with long hours.”

He said the dairy industry should be one that had a reputation for being a good employer.

Trent said schools no longer pointed people without academic achievements to farming and many farmers had university degrees.

He said he was thrilled farmers gave up their valuable time to be better employers.

“I am blown away.  They have so many competing demands, and they chose to come here to develop themselves as leaders.  That speaks volumes to me.  I think about the state of the dairy industry. Being a good employer is just good business.”

Business leadership developer Jon Heslop said dairy farmers needed to think big, be realistic about facing facts, be warriors who had courage and healers who cared about their staff. 

He said those traits would make people excellent managers and make the difference in leadership.

Heslop said open questions were good because they went into long term memory, whereas instructions went into short term memory.

“It is surprising to many people, when a staff member rides a bike back, and says they had forgotten what it was they were supposed to do.”

He said feedback was also important.

“Ask, tell and ask and tell.  Ask what they thought they’d done well.  Then tell them what their good points are.  Ask where they think they could improve, then talk to them about ways to lift their game.”

During the expo farmers talked about management issues they had found difficult to deal with.

“Talking to an employee about drug and alcohol testing when you know the result, taking disciplinary action, talking to someone about their performance or behaviour. And talking to a business partner about standing back.  It is hard to tell someone something has to change.”

Heslop said dairy farmers were doing business in a fish bowl, which was hard given the environmental pressures.

“But believe in the dairy industry and stand up for your vision and people.”


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