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Farm worker salaries up 4.9%

Friday 6th May 2011

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Farm workers notched up an overall average salary rise of 4.9% in the year to October, even as the recession continued to dampen wages and salaries outside the farm gate.

"With inflation running at around 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2011, farm workers are better off personally and professionally with average wage and salary increases of 8.2% in the past two years," Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson said today.

He reported the figures from a Rabobank farm employee remuneration report, and said the 4.9% average lift in pay meant farm workers were slightly ahead of rising costs. The calculation contrasted with Statistics New Zealand's labour cost index, which recorded a 1.9% increase in the year to March 2011.

At $45,410 a year - up from $43,294 in 2009 - the average farm worker earned $8567 more than the average annual wage and salary income earner, Nicolson said.

Taking into account things such as housing and vehicles lifted the workers' earnings packages to $49,474, compared with $48,388 for the same sort of packages in 2009.

But there had been a "squeeze" at managerial levels, especially in dairy, where the mean total package fell in value by 8.6% to $73,360.

"Then again, senior dairy farm managers benefited from sizeable increases in 2008 and 2009," he said. "The higher employees go, the more they seem to be expected to share business volatility".

While salaries and the payment packages for dairy farm managers fell, overall wages and salaries for dairy workers increased by an average of 5.4% with a 0.5% increase in a worker's total package.

In sheep and beef - where commodity prices have also increased - the total packages for senior management lifted 7.25%, and there was a slight increase for senior arable farm managers.

Overall, wages and salary for sheep and beef workers lifted, on average by 2.3%, and their total packages rose an average of 3.8%. Workers in the arable sector similarly recorded wage and salary growth of 2%, but their overall packages dropped 3.3%.

Casual skilled farm labourers gained an increase of just under 2.5% to pass the $20/hour mark, but the hourly rate for unskilled farm labourers continued falling.

Rabobank general manager Ben Russell said the international economic climate had affected wages and salaries.

"It's been a very tough year for all employers, including agriculture, but despite this, the sector shines as an attractive sector to be working in," said Russell.

"The dairy sector has benefitted from several positive seasons with many farm employers now targeting debt retirement while boosting productivity".



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