Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

How to keep the inspector happy as an employer

Employers may fear the National Employment Rights Authority or NERA but boss Ger Deering says farmers should not worry

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Ask any farmer who employs staff what they know about NERA and you might see them shudder. While they may not be on everybody's radar, with a staff of 106 and 66 inspectors, this State agency means business.

They are getting it too. Last year they received 135,000 calls from members of the public, mostly employees, concerned about their rights. On the back of that, the agency carried out inspections on more than 5,000 employers, 86 of which led directly to cases for prosecution.

Where does the agriculture sector feature in all of this? While it may not be number one on the hit-list (catering and the hotel trade are among the most heavily inspected at the moment), 31 farms have already been visited by NERA inspectors in the first five months of this year.

More significantly, over half of those were found to be non-compliant and these farmers are now liable for an extra €87,726 in underpayments of wages. Unfortunately, these figures are no better than those inspectors discovered last year, when 71pc of the farms that they visited were found to be non-compliant.

Two-thirds of the inspections take place on the back of complaints received by NERA at their headquarters in Carlow town. So what can farmers who employ people do to ensure that they are compliant if and when they get a visit from a NERA inspector?

The two key documents are a work contract and weekly payslips, according to NERA's director, Ger Deering.

"Employers must give their employees written terms and conditions within two months of starting work," said Mr Deering. "This protects the employer as much as the employee since it outlines exactly what the terms and conditions are. For example, it should outline what breaks or normal working hours an employee is entitled to. The onus is then on the employee to inform the employer that they are not getting the required breaks.

"A contract of employment doesn't need to go into minute detail. For example, it would be sufficient for it to state that an employee will be paid in accordance with the Employment Regulation Order (ERO) for agricultural workers 2010. Sample work contracts can be downloaded from our website and the ERO is also available online.

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"The second thing that farmers need to get, in order to be compliant with employment law, is a payslip that clearly shows the employee's gross wages and the net wage that they receive after all taxes and deductions. Bear in mind that any deductions for accommodation, food or whatever need to be noted in the terms and conditions of the work contract.

While there are plenty of payroll programmes available for less than €200, the NERA boss was keen to point out that a payslip doesn't necessarily need to be a computer generated document. "A hand-written one will do, as long as it contains all the relevant information," he said.

"All employees should know what the hourly rates are, maximum working hours, break and annual leave entitlements."

Mr Deering pointed out that there are also very specific conditions for the employment of young people if they are not your immediate family.

"For example, a copy of a birth certificate or passport must be obtained by the employer if the employee is under 18 years of age," he said. "They must also be shown a summary of the Protection of Young Persons' Act, which again is available to download from our website.

"The best way to deal with a NERA inspection, if you get one, is to keep communicating with us. That's the quickest way of getting us out of your hair.

"But employers should remember that we act as an information service for employers just as much as for employees. So if an employer wants to know, for example, how to let people go the right way, we're there to take a call at 1890 808090."

Indo Farming