Employment law: top three questions from employers in the agricultural sector

Mon 17th Jun 2019

Employment specialist at Coodes Solicitors, Philip Sayers, shares his top three questions most commonly asked by employers in the agricultural sector.

Agricultural employers have a difficult job of running a labour intensive and highly seasonal business, while striving to comply with employment law, which is becoming steadily more complex. Here are three questions I am frequently asked by employers in the farming sector.

1.What is a fair wage for farm work?

In England the sector no longer has a separate body assessing wage levels, but long-standing agricultural employees can be entitled to a higher than usual rate of pay. In any event the national minimum wage and national living wage are very relevant and steadily rising. Where the workers are family members living in the family home the minimum wage rules may not apply but for all other farm workers they will do.

The nature of agricultural work, particularly farm work, does not lend itself to keeping a careful record of hours worked. However, it is a criminal offence for an employer not to keep adequate records to prove they have paid the minimum wage and it is very difficult to defend any claims alleging an underpayment without those records.

2.Do I have to comply with Working Time Regulations?

The Working Time Regulations apply to agricultural workers, so employees cannot work more than an average of 48 hours a week without signing an opt out. There are also mandatory rest provisions, including building in eleven clear hours between one shift finishing and the next one starting. In recognition of the seasonal fluctuations caused by the nature of the work these rest provisions can often be temporarily relaxed, but the employer must then provide a period of compensatory rest wherever possible.

3.Are my workers entitled to accommodation?

In the agricultural sector it is often the case that the worker lives in accommodation provided by their employer, for example a gamekeeper’s cottage. In other employment sectors where accommodation is provided, such as a flat above a pub, the occupancy is generally under a bare licence only and if the employment ends so does any right to reside. However, in the agricultural sector it is possible for a worker to benefit from a protected tenancy which can make it very difficult for an employer to reclaim the property even where employment has been terminated. Therefore it is extremely important for an employer to take legal advice whenever they are considering providing accommodation to a member of their workforce.

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers, Employment team, Coodes Solicitors on 01872 246200 or philip.sayers@coodes.co.uk.

Mon 17th Jun 2019

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