Farmers Weekly 5 December 2019

After ‘atrocious’ spring weather in Southland, rural contractors in Southland are seeing some improvements and catching up on delayed work.

Rural Contractors NZ president David Kean who is based near Winton says October and much of November presented terrible conditions with near constant rain which left ground waterlogged even through occasional dry periods.

He says the end of November and first week of December had brought better conditions and the province was drying out.

“We are now seeing crops going in and sileage and baleage operators are starting to get onto it.”

David Kean estimates that most contractors are about four weeks behind their normal spring/early summer schedules.

“It’s been a slow start and we are well behind but fingers crossed we will be able to get a fair amount of catch-up done by Christmas.”

He says that once Christmas Day passes, the pressure comes off.

In the interim, he says those in contracting and those farmers using their services do need to recognise the risks of contractors pushing themselves and staff into working over-long hours.

“Most contractors have re-arranged their whole attitude to hours. The days of working 24 hours at a stretch are gone.’’

David has observed changes such as one Southland contractor engaging a full-time cook to provide meals for his staff. After a week’s improvement in the weather, another contractor gave his staff a day off. Other contractors are running double shifts.

“The message is getting through. Everything you do in rural areas now you are being watched.”

He says farmers now ask questions if they see contractors putting in long hours; one driver is that farm owners share some of the responsibilities for ensuring people on their properties are safe, as required under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

“There’s always going to be some clown who thinks he can drive a tractor for 22 hours a day but they tend to be one-man bands.”

“Contractors really need to have a plan around staffing to ensure they don’t require people to get fatigued.”

“I’m well aware of the challenges faced in getting skilled staff but you cannot expect people to work 12 and 18 hour days, week in week out, and not think there will not be consequences.”

Mr Kean noted a 2016 case where a worker for a Waikato contracting company doing harvesting on a farm in Pukekawa had logged a 16.75 hour day before heading home after 2am on a tractor in preparation for the next day’s work.  He crashed the tractor and died as a result of injuries sustained.

“That worker had logged nearly 200 hours in the fortnight leading up to his death.  Fatigue was identified as the most likely cause of the accident. “

“As contractors we are caught in an awful bind.  We have to get much work done, often in a limited period of time. We do our best to look after our clients but we also have to feel able to say that there is a limit to what we ask staff to do – or take on ourselves.”

Rural Contractors NZ has around 500 members around New Zealand.

“Our members all work to a Code of Ethics that says we shall be good employers with fair and reasonable conditions of employment, healthy and safe work places and employment practices,” said David Kean.