New minimum wage
From 1 April 2022, the minimum wage increased from $20.00 to $21.20/hour. If you haven’t already, you should review your employees’ pay rates to ensure you are compliant with the new minimum wage. For employees on a wage, this is a straightforward process as you only need to ensure that your employees’ wages are at least $21.20/hour. This is not the case for all employees, however, including those on a salary, as it makes it more difficult to calculate if their current pay rate is sufficient when they work overtime.
During busy times, such as the harvest and calving, salaried employees often work hours over and above their regular contract hours. You should check the pay of these employees every pay period to ensure their pay divided by the actual hours they worked meets minimum wage requirements. If not, your employee’s pay must be topped up to at least the minimum wage, regardless of whether any term in their employment agreement says otherwise.
Failing to keep accurate time records could lead to a penalty under the Employment Relations Act 2000 or Holidays Act 2003. You should also take this opportunity to ensure your time recording systems are accurate.
Vaccine mandate ends: how this will affect the rural sector
People employed in education, police, defence and hospitality are no longer required to be vaccinated to carry out their work. Employees in the health, aged care, corrections and border sectors, however, must still comply with vaccine mandates. Any terminations based on vaccination status made before these mandates were dropped are not unlawful, nor are there requirements to reinstate these past employees.
The rural sector is not directly impacted by these mandate changes. However, with many businesses having imposed mandates, they can still choose to implement their own vaccine mandates, but it must be implemented in accordance with a risk assessment.
It is important to be cautious when implementing a vaccine mandate as the case of Yardley v Minister for Workplace Relations1 found that vaccine requirements for the police and defence force were unlawful and imposed on their right to refuse medical treatment. There is a risk that similar cases could be brought in other employment sectors. Therefore, it’s necessary to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment to determine if a vaccine mandate is required at your farm or rural business.
Vaccine passes are also no longer required for those entering a business. People coming on to farms are no longer required to prove their vaccination status. However, businesses can choose to keep this mandate in place.
Russia Sanctions Act: impact on the rural sector
The Russia Sanctions Act 2022 was recently passed to help combat Russia’s breach of international law and aggressive acts towards Ukraine. The Act came into force on 12 March 2022 and imposes sanctions on individuals and entities involved in the attacks on Ukraine. Sanctions may also be imposed for strategic purposes or to undermine Russia’s economy. The sanctions have extraterritorial application and target travel to and from New Zealand, and impose certain controls over assets and services connected to sanctioned entities. There is further detail in the Act’s accompanying Sanctioned Persons Schedule.
These sanctions are expected to have implications on both imports and exports. Russia’s top imports to New Zealand include crude petroleum oils and potassium fertilisers that are key resources used in the rural sector. It is anticipated that supply chain disruption, shortages in raw materials and fluctuations in prices will result.
Some corporates are also choosing to impose sanctions on Russia. Fonterra has announced it will exit its businesses in Russia and suspend all its exports to Russia. This may have implications for dairy farmers, but Fonterra has stated its exports to Russia total only about 1% of its annual exports (primarily butter).
1 Yardley v Minister for Workplace Relations  NZHC 291