Recruiting the right staff to work on your farm

Hiring new employees to work on the farm need not be a stressful event

Hiring new employees can be an exciting yet stressful time. It also comes with some risks. However, following proper recruiting and training procedures, and understanding your legal obligations, will ensure your farm is a safe and happy place to work.

Before formulating the job description and hiring a new employee, ask yourself three questions: How much work needs to be completed? Will one employee be enough to accomplish this task? How many hours can I afford to pay and at what wage? Once you've established your farm's needs and created a job description, you can start the recruitment process.

Detailed job posting helps attract top candidates

Your job ad should be informative and upfront. Outlining the required criteria in a carefully worded and detailed ad will help attract suitable prospects. Quickly sift through resumes as they first come in by looking for key words and phrases that pertain to the job posting. You want to screen out applicants who do not meet the minimum job requirements. Your candidate selection should be as objective as possible. Keep in mind, a resume is your first chance to decide whether a candidate moves forward in the hiring process. However, they have their limitations. The questions you ask candidates during the interview should reflect the specific skills required for the job.

Problem-solving questions are a great way to determine if a potential employee has real-life experiences beyond what he or she learned in school. Knowing if a potential employee can detect mastitis or aid in calving can greatly shorten the selection process. It is a good idea to take the candidates on a tour of your farm. Let them show you what they know. The candidate may talk about past employers and co-workers, which can give you further insight in his or her suitability for your farm operation and family dynamic.

A candidate may do well during the interview, but then you find out later he or she has poor work habits, such as being consistently late, not finishing their work, or disregarding safety concerns. You need to consider all these issues when hiring. The interview is critical to assess a candidate's skills, talents, knowledge, work history and commitment.

You also need to know about provincial human rights laws that prohibit discrimination by race, colour, religion, physical or mental disability, sex or marital status, among other stipulations. The code also protects individuals against discrimination on the basis of age.

Orientation and training matters

Each farm operation differs in management, number of employees, size, etc. When training a new employee, do not assume he or she knows the protocols that must be followed on your farm, especially if they've previously worked on another dairy farm.

You need to orient the new employee with your farm's layout and daily routine. Going over basic tasks, such as the milking procedure, record-keeping and animal handling, will ensure your farm is a safe place to work. Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHIMS) training may be useful but is not a legal requirement in Ontario. However, material safety data sheets must be kept up-to-date and each employee should know where they are located. It is your responsibility to provide employees with any necessary safety equipment.

You can use written standard operating procedures (SOPs), which are a requirement in the Canadian Quality Milk Program, to train new employees. SOPs are often used as reference for tasks not performed regularly, and for experienced employees to review so they can improve their performance. Thoroughly review your SOPs with new employees and have them sign a document indicating they understand the rules and procedures and will abide by them. You may also want to go over SOPs for animal welfare, equipment and machinery operation, among others.

Your employer responsibility

Most labour issues in Canada are dealt with provincially. However, payroll is a federal obligation. You are responsible for employee deductions and submitting remittances to the Canada Revenue Agency for income tax, the Canada Pension Plan and employment insurance. Payroll can be done through your business or you can pay a fee and get a third party to handle it.

Worker protection legislation is handled by your provincial Ministry of Labour. Though each province has different rules and regulations, the objectives are the same. In Ontario, there are four main acts of which you need to be aware:

  • Occupational Health and Safety Act;
  • Employment Standards Act;
  • Labour Relations Act;
  • Workplace Safety Insurance Act.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act states that a worker has the right to:

  • know about hazards;
  • participate in health and safety;
  • refuse unsafe work;
  • stop unsafe work.

The Employment Standards Act deals with various issues, such as hours of work, rest periods, and financial compensation, which includes vacation, overtime, paternity and maternity pay. The Workplace Safety Insurance Act deals with work-related injuries. These costs are covered by an employer-funded insurance plan. Finally, the Labour Relations Act covers a worker's right to collective interest and unionization. Not all provinces cover agricultural workers in the same manner. British Columbia and Quebec have provisions for agricultural workers, while Alberta excludes them. In Ontario, agricultural workers are covered under different regulations. Check your provincial legislation for detailed labour obligations.

Minimum wage also falls under the Employment Standards Act. In Ontario, it does not apply to the primary production job category, such as a dairy farm worker. However, this is a moot point when competing in a fierce labour market. Check with your province's Ministry of Labour for the minimum wage rate in your area. You can also consult other dairy farmers to help determine the wage you should set to attract the type of worker you want. In Ontario, the minimum wage will increase to $11 per hour on June 1, 2014.

Hiring the right people and keeping up with the legal requirements of employing agricultural workers is a difficult and complex task, but with a little planning you can ease this complexity.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Proper training and documentation will help ensure your operation runs smoothly and everyone goes home safe at the end of the day. It starts by hiring the right employees who care as much about your farm operation as you do.

This article was originally published in the May 2014 edition of the Milk Producer magazine.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
Author: Tom Wright, Dairy Cattle Nutritionist/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 23 February 2016
Last Reviewed: 23 February 2016