Employing Workers on the Farm

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In this article we are going to look at a number of the key aspects of employment law and how it affects farmers.


Irish agriculture and forestry employs over 4,000 full-time workers and a further 15,000 seasonal workers.  The employment of agricultural workers is regulated by statutory agreements (agreements set down in law). . Up to recently, workers were protected by the Employment Regulation Orders (EROs) issued by the Agriculture Workers Joint Labour Committees (JLC) of the Labour Court.  However, the current status of the existing EROs is unclear following a decision of the High Court in July 2011 which ruled that this system of setting minimum rates of pay and conditions was unconstitutional.


The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr Richard Bruton has promised legislation to overhaul and remedy the uncertainty created by the High Court ruling.  In the meantime, the position regarding these agreements is unclear.  We would recommend that you seek legal advice as to the validity of current terms and conditions of your existing employees and also the position regarding the hiring of new employees.


Even though the ERO may be deemed unconstitutional, it is important to ensure that you do not breach relevant employment legislation in respect of both current and newly hired employees.


The following applies to the employment of:

 

Full-Time Workers

 

If you employ full-time workers on your farm you are bound by legislation that applies to all employers.  This means you must provide your employees with the following:

  • Contract of employment.  You must provide employees with a written statement, setting out their terms and conditions of employment.  It should include details of pay, working hours, sick leave, annual leave, disciplinary and grievance procedures.
  • Pay slip.  This statement should include a breakdown of gross pay which should include: hours worked, hourly rate of pay, holiday pay, sick pay, Sunday premium and premium days pay. In addition it should include such deductions as: tax, social insurance, board and lodgings (where applicable), and pension.
  • Bullying and Harassment.  You are required to have a prevention of bullying and harassment policy in place.
  • Holiday entitlements.  Your employees are entitled to 20 days annual leave.
  • Health and Safety.  You must prepare a Safety Statement in compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and the Code of Practice for Preventing Injury and Occupational Health in Agriculture 2006.  For more information see http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/Agriculture_and_Forestry
  • Employers and employees are responsible for safety in the workplace and your workers should be familiar with another Code of Practice: Guidelines on Safety Representatives and Safety consultation.  More information is available:  see http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications and Forms/Publications/Safety_and_Health_Management/Guidelines_Safety_Representatives.pdf

Under health and safety legislation, as an employer you are obliged to provide your workers, free of charge, with appropriate personal protective equipment.

 

Part-time or seasonal workers

Generally speaking, part-time and seasonal workers are afforded the same rights, on a pro-rata basis, as full-time workers.  As a result of EU Directives, legislation has been enacted to protect the rights of part time and seasonal workers, including the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act, 2003 and the Protection of Employees (Part Time Work) Act 2001.  All of the above legislation applies to those also.  However, it is important that the contract of employment states the part-time and seasonal nature of the particular employee’s employment.


Part time and seasonal workers are entitled to pro-rata holiday entitlements.  This is calculated in accordance with the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

 

Agency workers

If you engage an agency to provide workers to carry out certain tasks on your farm, such as milking cows, you should be aware of significant changes in the law.  The Protection of Employees(Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012 came into force on 16 May 2012.  Under this legislation agency workers are now afforded the same rights as permanent employees.


All temporary agency workers are entitled to equal treatment in basic employment conditions in the same way as if they were recruited directly by you, the farmer.  This means that agency workers are entitled to equal treatment with any permanent worker you may have.


Equal treatment applies to the following areas:

 

  • Working time
  • Rest periods
  • Rest breaks
  • Night work
  • Annual leave
  • Public holidays.
  • Equal treatment will also apply to pay and this will include:
  • Basic pay
  • Shift premium
  • Overtime premium
  • Unsocial hours premium
  • Sunday premium

 


The right to equal pay has effect from 5 December 2011 – therefore agency workers are entitled to this right back-dated to then.


If you require contracts of employment drafted for your workers or any advice relating to issues raised in this article please contact Helen Coughlan at 045 431542 or email her at helen.coughlan@pjf.ie

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