BPEX’s Samantha Bowsher says there’s a thirst for guidance on employment law within the pig sector
Pig producers got really enthused while breaking down the often heavy subject of employment law at a BPEX training day in East Anglia. It’s vital to understand it, both from a legal point of view, to avoid potentially expensive pitfalls, and because of the positive effect it can have on staff motivation and business performance.
Workshop leader Steve Tullock, ACAS’s East of England training manager, got producers discussing their own specific challenges and gave them a lot of pointers to take away and consider.
These included dealing with the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), contracts of employment, pay, holiday entitlements, dealing with grievances, dismissal and understanding an employer’s legal obligations.
“Nipping things in the bud is key,” Mr Tullock said. “Managers need to deal with problems quickly and make sure they follow the right procedures in dealing with them.
“Bear in mind that, while employees can be very quick to tell their employers about rights, don’t forget that, as employers, you have rights too. As an employer, you’ll be involved in legal relationships so you need policies and procedures in place that suit and support your business and also support your managers in doing their jobs.
“Also, be careful to avoid any form of discrimination, before, during or after recruitment. You can inadvertently discriminate even in the early stages of recruitment and interview, and producers need to be aware that this is a potential risk.”
The abolition of the AWB has led to mixed opinions among producers, with some feeling lost without the structure it provided and others feeling happy that they now have no restrictions. “Employers now have the opportunity to look more broadly at terms and conditions of employment and can make changes to benefit their businesses so, while we’ve lost the structure of the Agricultural Wages order, it doesn’t have to be a negative,” Mr Tullock said.
He also explained how producers can use annual staff appraisals to help manage and develop staff more effectively.
“If you’ve got an effective appraisal system it can bring lots of benefits,” he said. “People who feel valued, who feel like they’re being listened to and who receive regular feedback from managers about how they’ve been performing feel more motivated and are generally more productive. There tend to be fewer conduct issues and staff attendance is better.
“Overall, an appraisal system is an opportunity for managers to have a rapport and relationship with staff. They can clearly set standards of performance and, if there are people struggling to achieve them, it becomes a useful tool for managers to establish where the gap is and how they can support people to close that gap.
“It’s one of the most effective tools for business, as long as senior managers and staff buy into it. However, make sure the appraisal system suits the needs of the business. A small pig farm doesn’t need an elaborate system, but the fact that BPEX is providing a template in its online Human Resources Toolkit is a good starting point.”
An appraisal system will also help both the employee and employer if, unfortunately, the employer has to consider dismissal.
“You first have to have an improvement plan in place to support the staff member,” Mr Tullock said. “But, if performance doesn’t improve and you enter a dismissal process, then having a way to document and support the actions you’ve taken is very important.”
If producers in other regions are interested in an employment law workshop, more can be arranged by the BPEX knowledge transfer team or skills manager Samantha Bowsher.
Contact details for the BPEX team are available at: www.bpex.org.uk/2ts/contact.aspx
The appraisal template in The Human Resources (HR) Toolkit is available at: www.bpex.org.uk/2TS/Training/hrtoolkit.aspx