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Relief services on hand to cut costs


Over the past few weeks we have outlined the raft of responsibilities that farmers face when they take on an employee. From minimum wage rates and contracts of employment, to filing tax returns and fulfilling pension obligations, hiring staff is something that farmers should think long and hard about before they commit to bringing someone on board.

In addition to the legal obligations, the taxes that now apply to an employee are quite significant.

Take a look at the example in the table (pictured), where an employee is paid €10/hr for a 50-hour week, on a fortnightly basis.

There is an alternative to this scenario for a farmer. The not-for-profit Farm Relief Services co-op (FRS) provides a full range of farm workers, from tractor drivers to milkers.

Because the operators are all individual contractors, FRS is able to provide the same amount/level of labour used in the example for a cost of just €1,180. That's a saving of more than €110 every two weeks, or €2,860 a year, according to FRS chief executive Peter Byrne.

"There's a lot of good reasons why farmers are turning to us for their labour requirements," said Mr Byrne.

"Apart from actually working out cheaper in a lot of cases than what the farmer is paying an employee, all our operators are fully insured. This means that employers and public liability are covered, so that if, say, antibiotics get into the bulk tank or a tractor gets damaged, our insurance policy will cover whatever the farmer is out of pocket for."

The other advantage that farm relief staff have is that they are fully tax deductible. In an era when the black economy is on the rise once again, this is a big advantage for the farmer, who otherwise is forced to pay the employee out of his after-tax earnings. This can add another 50pc onto the actual cost of your labour bill.

"The black economy is back with a bang," said Tom Bermingham of Wexford-based Farm Solutions (FS).

"There's often the pick of lads in the parish who are more than willing to work for cash these days."

Mr Bermingham also said that he is getting a lot of enquiries from farmers that have been stung by redundancy or pay and unfair dismissal claims.

"The law's on the employee's side," he said. "The farmer knows that we're going to look after the paperwork and that we're a hell of a lot cheaper than what they've just been through."

Both FS and FRS report a bounce in enquiries from farmers over the past few months on the back of renewed optimism in the sector. But what are the typical rates?

"The rates vary between the 18 different FRS offices we have around the country," said Mr Byrne.

"The most availed of service is relief milking, which is charged at somewhere from €35-45 for one-off milking for a herd of 40-60 cows. There would be scope for farmers with larger herds and good set-ups or farmers with more regular work to negotiate much keener rates.

"General work on dairy farms costs €14-15/hr, while other farm work could cost up to €17/hr.

"Charges for specialised services such as scanning, hoof paring or fencing are usually negotiated on the basis of herd size. All of our charges include VAT at 13.5pc."

FS specialises more in placing people in full-time work on farms.

Mr Bermingham quotes an all-inclusive cost of a full-time worker on contract from FS at €480 including VAT for a 40-hour week. Extra hours, up to a maximum of 48 hours a week, are charged at €11.50 + VAT/hr.

"Rates are determined by JLC legislation, as well as by the level of experience of the worker," said Mr Bermingham.

"Rates include PAYE, PRSI and USC contributions as applicable to all employees. The farmer receives a tax-deductible invoice on a fortnightly basis from Farm Solutions. Payment is by bank direct debit.

As the workers are employed by Farm Solutions Ltd, the farmer is not liable for employers' PRSI or any redundancy or unfair dismissal issues that may arise in the future."

One of the other interesting facilities offered by FRS is its Farmer Accident and Sickness Scheme. At €425/yr, the farmer can avail of FRS to do his farm work in the event of him being indisposed as a result of either accident or sickness at 25pc of normal costs, subject to certain terms and conditions. Benefit can last up to 51 weeks with the first week excluded.

Indo Farming