Hiring and keeping staff is more than compliance with the law
With changes in the industry over the past 25 years, we can’t do all the work on our farms without help. Farms that have been successful in growing their business have the right people for the right jobs. This doesn’t happen by luck. Having a clear understanding of the role and type of person you want gives employers a better chance of finding and keeping the right people.
There are some good resources available to help make the recruiting and engagement process comprehensive but still pretty straightforward. For an employment relationship to work, both employer and employee must share the same expectations about the job.
To make sure you are both ‘on the same page’, there are 3 documents you can’t live without:
- A position description
- An employment contract
- An employee details form
A position description (or job description) is a statement that explains a job. Writing a position description will help clarify the skills and traits you need the new employee to have. It should include:
- job title and location
- duties, responsibilities and tasks – what you need the person to do, who they are in charge of and who they report to
- any required skills, qualifications, licenses and experience
- any other requirements – such as physical demands
- your expectations – such as production targets
- any benefits, such as accommodation
- whether the position is full-time, part-time or casual.
Don’t include anything that isn’t necessary for the job such as gender, age or family responsibilities. Not only will you be limiting the people who will apply for the job, but it could be discrimination and break the law.
Think carefully about what you really want. Do you just need a hand with the milking (casual milker) or do you want to delegate some responsibility to a farm manager and have some work life balance – a holiday?
Sometimes employees are hard to find. Can you train up an existing employee or take on an apprentice or trainee – refer to the FAQ – What is an apprenticeship or traineeship? Would backpackers suit your short-term staffing needs?
You should also start thinking about your obligations and asking yourself the following questions: what are the minimum wages? What other conditions may they be entitled to? What hours do you want them to work?
Think about where the person you want is likely to look – which isn’t necessarily where you would look, e.g. noticeboards at schools and employment websites. You should have a budget for all the costs of your advertising. Prices vary from newspaper to newspaper, and website to website. Places to consider advertising are:
- Australian Job Network agencies (no fees)
- private employment companies that service the dairy industry
- noticeboards at local shops, schools and TAFE colleges, backpacker hostels, agricultural suppliers, sporting clubs
- your local newspaper and the regional rural paper
- dairy company publications
- job or industry websites (see below)
How you advertise the job will also affect who applies for it. Job ads should be based on the position description and include:
- a brief description of your farm
- the job title and status
- a brief description of duties
- any required skills, qualifications or experience
- your contact information
- how to apply for the job and a closing date for applications.
On-line job sites
Here are a few of the sites and services available to get you started:
Local Facebook pages and groups where employers advertise jobs and prospective employees look for opportunities. Twitter is also active.
- Websites such as Gumtree, Harvest Trail, Careerjet, Seek, Working for Victoria, Help Harvest NSW, Jobs in WA Food and Ag, Ag Careers and AgDraft
- Recruitment companies such as Dairy Jobs, CFM Dairy Recruitment, Agricultural Appointments, Westvic Staffing Solutions, AgriTalent (fees apply) and Workforce Australia for businesses
- Jobsearch and Australian Job Network agencies
First of all, you can short list applicants by comparing their skills, qualifications and experience with the job description. Then to assess the short listed applicants:
- arrange an interview to get to know them and find out a little bit more about their experience and why they want the job
- a skills assessment if it’s relevant to the job
- talk to their referees, making sure you ask specific questions about their skills and experience.
- ask job applicants to work an unpaid trial. You can ask them to demonstrate a particular skill but if you ask them to do productive work, you’ll need to pay them the minimum hourly rate for the job.
- ask person questions that aren’t related to whether or not they can do the job, such as their race, colour, gender, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin. They can be offensive and discriminatory. This applies to their references as well – only ask questions that are relevant to the job they’ll be doing. Exceptions apply where the discrimination is taken because of the nature of a particular position.
Part-time employees and the employer must agree in writing on the regular pattern of work specifying the hours to be worked each day, the days of the week when the employee will work and the daily starting and finishing times.
Casual employees must be told that they are employed as a casual employee, the identity of the employer, classification level and pay rate. Employers are not required under the Pastoral Award 2020 to provide a written statement to casual employees, but this is advisable.
By law, all employment records must contain the following:
- the name of the employer
- the name of the employee
- whether employment is full time or part time
- whether employment is permanent, casual or temporary
- the date the employment began
- the ABN of the employer.
These records can be kept on the employee details form
Many dairy farms offer accommodation either on farm or in nearby towns to workers. Whilst this can be a useful tool to attract staff there can also be problems if both parties are not clear about expectations for care of the property and issues when the employment is terminated and the property needs to be vacated.
The laws about accommodation vary from state to state and are contained in the state residential tenancy laws.
These laws lay down notice periods for ending the tenancy, whether bonds can be required and how much can be charged as well as rules regarding repairs and inspection and agreements with specific terms. Breaches of these laws attract fines.
Whilst residential tenancy laws can protect both the tenant and the landlord, the notice periods for ending the tenancy can be problematic when employment is terminated either with notice but particularly if the employee is dismissed summarily for misconduct.
Do the state residential tenancy laws apply to me?
Whether the residential tenancy laws apply depends upon which state the property is in and whether you charge rent or make the accommodation part of the employment package.
If you are in NSW, Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia the residential tenancy laws do not apply to accommodation if it is not ‘for value’ or ‘for valuable consideration’. This means that if you do not charge rental and do not otherwise include the accommodation in a package you are not subject to these laws.
If you are in Queensland the residential tenancy laws apply regardless of whether rental is charged.
If you are in Victoria, then the residential tenancy laws specifically do not apply to accommodation which is provided as part of an employment contract. You should use the template agreement for Victoria and you may charge rental if you wish to. You should not enter into an agreement under the residential tenancy laws.
If the residential tenancy laws do not apply you can still charge a bond. If the employee cannot afford to pay the bond up front you can ask them to pay an amount each pay day up to a reasonable amount. If you decide to charge a bond as provided for in the template agreement you should ensure that this is returned to the employee unless there is good reason not to as provided for in the agreement.
Rent and Utilities
If you wish to charge for utilities such as gas, electricity and water you can agree with the employee to deduct payment from the employee’s wages or salary as this is for their benefit. You can also agree with the employee to deduct rent from their salary as this is also for their benefit. Use the Authority to Deduct to formalise these deductions and keep the signed form with your employment records.
Accommodation Agreement templates
The Accommodation Agreement templates have been drafted to address some of the main issues which arise with on farm accommodation.
As the laws about accommodation vary there is a template accommodation agreement specifically for Victoria and one for NSW, Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia.
There is also a template for shared accommodation in Victoria such as backpacker accommodation, a template for shared accommodation in Tas, WA, SA or NSW, and a Code of Conduct for shared accommodation.
There is no template for Queensland as the residential tenancy laws apply to all accommodation regardless of whether rent is charged.
Charging rent – NSW, Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia
If you wish to charge rental and you are in NSW, Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia then you will need to enter into a formal residential tenancy agreement in accordance with state laws. Some people find that the local real estate agent will arrange this and manage the property including performing inspections.
Each state has a residential tenancy authority website which provides information and pro forma agreements.
Go to the following links for the residential tenancy authority in your state:
New South Wales
No employee can walk into a new job and be fully effective from the first day – effectiveness grows with understanding of the farm and the details of its operation.
Overall, employees perform better, and are more likely to stay in the job longer, when they are clear about what is expected of them from the beginning. It is important to ensure that every employee receives appropriate induction training.
Take your time to introduce your new employee to your workplace and their job. An induction checklist will help you remember the important things to cover during the induction, including:
- Paperwork, such as completing an employee details form
- Rosters and applying for leave (see Leave Section)
- Terms and conditions of employment – position description and employment contract
- Farm policies and systems
- OH&S procedures
- Farm tour and general information
- Introductions to farm staff (their roles and responsibilities), contractors, suppliers, owners, management
- A walk-through of specific job tasks.
When you hire someone new, it’s a good idea to have a 3-month probation period. During probation new employees should be closely supervised, trained and assessed to see if they’re suitable for the job.
Written position descriptions are important here because they set guidelines and expectations and should be used as the basis of assessing performance.
A probation period doesn’t affect your employees’ entitlements including leave (see Leave Section) and notice of termination (see Termination Section). Full and part-time employees who don’t pass their probation are entitled to at least one weeks’ notice of termination and annual leave paid out.
The ESKi is designed to get you started – we’ve integrated it with a range of resources on this website. Use our information and online templates to develop processes and/or documents that will help make your farm a workplace with good employment relationships.
The documents and links below will help you with this topic. We’ve included word templates you can download and customise plus PDFs you can print and write on.
|FAQ – What is an apprenticeship or traineeship?
|Position description – example
|Position description – template
|PDF template with notes
|Employment contract – permanent full time or part time – example (updated Nov 2023)
|Word template with notes
|Employment contract – casual template (updated Nov 2023)
|Word template with notes
|Employee details form
|Checklist for recruiting a Production Manager
|Employment contracts (updated Nov 2023)
- Do all your employees have a detailed written Position Description setting out their duties, responsibilities and tasks?
- Do your employees have a written statement setting out their classification, applicable pay and terms of engagement? (employment contract)
- Do you have all your employee details recorded on an employee details form?
- Do you provide new employees with appropriate induction training, information and support? Use the induction checklist