Federated Farmers calls for backpackers to be paid regular rates - 'Giving them experience isn't payment'

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NZN

Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard says farmers should pay backpackers market rates if they want to keep a handy pool of casual labour and avoid volunteer workers.

Young traveler man by the mountain lake contemplates beautiful landscape. Shot in the Fiordland national park on New Zealand's South Island.

Backpacker in New Zealand (file picture).

Source: istock.com

The Employment Relations Authority ruled an organic farm near Christchurch breached worker rights by paying them $120 a week plus providing food and lodging irrespective of the hours worked, and claiming they were volunteers after a Labour Inspectorate investigation.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said that thousands of people had been exploited at the farm, working up to 40 hours a week and often as hired out labour at a profit for Robinwood Farms director and shareholder Julia Osselton.

Mr Hoggard has drawn on backpackers to fill in on his farms, saying they're a handy resource for plugging gaps, however he's sceptical of farmers using volunteer work.

"They're often bloody good kids, keen to travel and experience things, but you've got to pay them for the work they do - giving them experience isn't payment," Hoggard said.

"At the moment we've got a good pool of seasonal staff who can fill in at times, but if people start to abuse it, it gets harder and you could lose that."

The ERA ruled Robinwood Farms has to pay two former employees $2600 each that they were owed, and broader penalties of up to $20,000 per person per breach are still under discussion, MBIE said.

Ms Osselton claimed the workers were WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) on a cultural exchange, although Labour Inspectorate Stu Lumsden said that wasn't the case.

WWOOF NZ said the farm isn't registered with the official group and had asked Ms Osselton not to pitch her farm as such.

WWOOF NZ is part of an international network where host farmers offer food and accommodation in exchange for volunteer work by travellers often interested in learning about organic farming.

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