Drought bites, wages halve

By Mike Dinsdale

Northland's drought is having wide-ranging effects on the region's economy, with farmers having to lay off staff or reduce their hours.

The region is going through its third drought in four summers, with Northland experiencing its driest start to the year for more than 60 years, but the effects are more wide ranging than just farmers, with downstream businesses also suffering.

Northland Rural Support Trust spokeswoman Julie Jonker said as their incomes suffered, many farmers were having to make the difficult decision to lay off staff or reduce their hours. As well, many were holding off on other spending, such as not getting machinery serviced or stocking up on other goods.

One farm worker, who wanted to be known only as John, told the Northern Advocate he's getting out of farm work - after working in the industry for more than a decade - after he had his work hours reduced without warning last week.

John said his wages had dropped from about $1000 a week to $450 due to the reduced hours, and while his family could get another $120 a week in family support - from April 1 - it would not be enough to pay their mortgage and other bills.

"It stinks really. I've worked my butt off and to just get my hours reduced without any notice is a big kick in the guts. It was just 'Take the cut or leave'. I can understand the farmers are having their problems but they could treat their workers a bit better than that," he said.

John is now looking at moving away from the region and getting out of farming in an effort to get full-time work. He has already reduced other "non-essential" spending in an effort to make his dwindling pay go further.

Ms Jonker said farmers did not make the decision to lay off staff or reduce their hours lightly, as it was hard to get good farm workers. She said there was some help available to laid off workers from Work and Income, such as emergency benefits and accommodation supplements.

"Farmers will do their best to keep staff on as long as possible but some have had to lay staff off and reduce hours," she said.

"Some have also reduced other spending and the drought is having a big effect on many sectors, not just farming, with farming the region's biggest economy. Farmers would normally get repair work done at the local garage or be stocking up on other goods, but aren't doing that ... this has a big effect on the whole community."

Ms Jonker said it was important farmers asked for help and they can contact Northland Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254.

- Northern Advocate

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