Tuesday, 16 June 2020 08:49

Farm accommodation stand-off

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis. Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis.

Dairy farmers and the Government remain at loggerheads over COVID-19 tenancy restrictions for on-farm accommodation.

While the Government maintains that the problem is “reasonably limited”, Federated Farmers warn that serious issues are developing on some farms.

Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis says it is still fielding calls from some farmers who report former farm staff refusing to vacate accommodation, one week after Moving Day on June 1.

Lewis says there is a “hardcore” group of farm workers refusing to move out of accommodation despite being no longer employed on the farm. Many workers have a house included as part of their contract. At the end of each dairy season, farm owners, sharemilkers, managers, employees and their families often shift properties for new jobs, traditionally on Moving Day.

In March the Government announced an extension of no-cause terminations, meaning tenants could not be evicted, to support New Zealanders to stay in their rental properties during the COVID-19 lockdown. The emergency legislation comes up for review on June 25.

Lewis says farmers expect the situation to worsen if the Government’s emergency measures to protect tenants are extended beyond June.

“This hasn’t been an ordinary year and some jobs are still being advertised and potential employees are still being interviewed,” Lewis told Rural News.

Associate Housing Minister Kris Faafoi recently spoke to Federated Farmers “to understand the nature and extent of the issue”, a spokesman told Rural News.

“Those discussions were helpful and indicated the issue seemed reasonably limited,” he says.

Faafoi’s office says details will be worked through in conjunction with Federated Farmers and depending on individual situations.

Federated Farmers floated two potential solutions: either an immediate amendment to the emergency regulations or the Government provides accommodation assistance payments to enable existing tenants on farm to find alternative temporary accommodation while they seek more permanent accommodation.

Lewis says farmers don’t accept that the Government cannot change the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), noting that the emergency measures were introduced and passed in Parliament in just one day.

The Government has ruled out making further immediate legislative changes to the RTA.

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