16 April 1999

DAIRY JOBS DOWN UNDER

JOBS on UK dairy farms may be thin on the ground at the moment, but in New Zealand theres a distinct shortage of skilled dairy workers. Hence the continuing push by NZ recruitment agencies to find UK workers prepared to travel the 12,000 miles for a different type of dairy job.

Fegan and Co specialises in young workers and brought in 17 UK and Irish staff to work on dairy farms in the 1998/99 season alone. Overseas recruitment organiser Hannah Mantle says the jobs are often ideal for students or graduates, especially those who want to learn about NZs grass-based management systems and large herds to help them in their future farming careers.

Those who get through the vetting process and come to work on dairy farms wont just end up relief milking either, she adds. Theyll learn about pasture management, record keeping and stock management. Places on offer range from those on 130-cow units to ones on giant 1400-cow businesses in the South Island.

Here are brief examples of three of the 17 people placed by Fegan and Co in 1998.

&#8226 Tom Flashman, 19, had been employed on a 200-cow unit in Shropshire before coming to NZ in August 1998. He has been working for Shaun and Jill Pound on Peter and Lois Mays farm on the outskirts of Hamilton, starting off as dairy assistant but now herd manager in charge of the 700 shorthorns. He plans to apply for NZ residency.

&#8226 Nathan Adams, 19, came to NZ on Aug 20 and is now working for Stuart and Kate Deadman at Taupo milking 1000 cows through a 60 aside herringbone. He came with his girlfriend Lucy, who gained a job and temporary work permit while in NZ. They plan to leave in May to travel and then return to North Yorks.

&#8226 Adrian Kinnersmith, 27, had been herdsman for 250 cows in West Sussex before coming to NZ with his wife Melanie and three children. He is herd manager for Alec and Verine Buchanan at Glendine Farms in Te Puke, a 230ha (570 acre) farm with 850 cows split into two 425-head herds.

Settle permanently

Another company targeting UK dairy farm workers and managers to meet NZ staff shortages is the London-based New Zealand and Australia Migration Bureau. It offers jobs for both single people and married couples, with housing and a food allowance included and competitive salaries.

Temporary positions (contracts up to one year) and permanent positions (contracts of one year or more) are available. Anyone wanting to settle permanently in NZ should apply for the latter. Most permanent workers are required for the start of the farming season on Jun 1, though shorter contracts are available at other times of the year.

Qualifications required include a higher agricultural qualification, at least two years farming experience, savings of at least £3000 and a serious desire to live and work in New Zealand.

Fegan and Co can be contacted on 07771-858930 (mob), 0064-78244825(tel) or 0064-78230107 (fax).

New Zealand and Australia Migration Bureau is on 0181-874 2844 (tel) or 0181-874 1178 (fax).

A FAIRER

WAY TO SPLIT UP?

Divorce in farming families can bring financial complications

and misery. Some reformers suggest that 50:50 splits or

prenuptial agreements could help. Suzie Horne reports

FINANCIAL settlements on divorce are often the subject of acrimonious negotiation, even if at the outset the intention of the parties is to settle amicably.

This is certainly the case in farming, where assets which may have been in the hands of one family for many generations may be at risk of being sold to raise the sums needed for the settlement. Land agents confirm that divorce is a significant factor in farm sales.

The fact that fault only exceptionally has a bearing on the financial settlement can make awards even harder to accept. Recent case history has broadly provided for the party requiring a settlement, usually the wife, to have her reasonable needs provided for. Usually a clean break settlement is sought, in which a capital sum is raised to provide appropriate housing and a lump sum, which is seen as capitalised maintenance, says Elizabeth Cleverley of Martlesham Heath, Ipswich-based solicitor Barker Gotelee.

The present system, which applies right across the social spectrum, is designed to protect the poor, but the knock-on effect is that there are injustices at the other end of the scale. "Of course it is better that way round, but it must be possible to create a fairer system while still protecting the poor," suggests Mrs Cleverley.

Mrs Cleverley cites the case of Lady Conran, former wife of Sir Terence Conran, whose reasonable needs from her husbands fortune of £81m were judged to be about £8.7m.

"The Conran decision confirmed a new approach when it was given in 1997 and it set a standard for wealthy divorcing couples where both have contributed to the creation of the wealth.

"The court went a stage further for Lady Conran and, in acknowledgement of her substantial contribution to the creation of her husbands wealth, included an additional £2m."

The recent judgement in the Court of Appeal in the case of White v White also departed from recent practice in that the basis of the award for Mrs White was one which reflected her partnership entitlement in contract, rather than the reasonable needs basis on which cases have hinged in the past.

Farming partnerships

Mrs and Mrs White had been in a farming partnership for more than 30 years. Mrs White had at the outset contributed roughly the same amount of capital as her husband and had worked in the business for the whole time as well as bringing up their three children.

Mrs White was originally awarded £800,000, on a reasonable needs basis, of the £4.5m assets at stake. On appeal, this was increased to £1.7m, with the Court of Appeal saying that where parties to a marriage were also business partners, the correct approach on dissolution of the marriage to determine a financial settlement was first to establish the financial worth of each of the parties on dissolution of the business partnership. It is understood that the White v White case is to go to the House of Lords.

Mrs White had argued for an award which would enable her to farm in her own right. The initial judgement had rejected this basis, saying that her claim had strong emotional, but little financial sense.

"The appeal decision has received publicity because of the significance for the wife in business and in partnership contract with her husband," says Mrs Cleverley. "There is another point of interest; although this couple had been married and had farmed together for 33 years, the court did not view them as equal partners.

"The strict rule of partnership property was applied. The husband was seen to have a larger share in the business because of two additional contributions which came via his family. First, a gift from his father in 1962 and 32 years before the divorce. Second, the purchase of the farm tenanted by the husbands father at an advantageous price – 22 years before the divorce. Thus applying a strict business approach may not always be the best option for the wife."

Mrs Cleverley stresses it is very important that any partnership agreement or business arrangement between husband and wife should be carefully drafted.

"Divorce should be considered, however sensitive this may appear at the time, and any subsequent change in the agreement should be recorded. At the very least the parties should consider different proportions for capital and income."

"It is very common for farmers to take their wives into partnership to save income tax, to use the wifes lower rate bands, without a written partnership agreement. This can be disastrous in some cases," warns Mrs Cleverley.

The issues arising from the two divorce cases above have prompted further discussion of the use of prenuptial agreements, which set out entitlements to assets and income before a marriage and deal with the possibility of a split.

Last year the Lord Chancellors department put out a consultation paper on the possibility of an automatic 50:50 division of assets on divorce. This included a provision to waive the 50:50 distribution if there was a pre-nuptial agreement.

If the 50:50 split was introduced, it would only be carried out subject to issues surrounding children, such as their support and accommodation, being paramount, and subject to the provision of maintenance for both spouses.

"To ensure there is no undue hardship, one approach might be to make these provisions compulsory before a 50:50 division could take place," suggests Mrs Cleverley.

"A 50:50 division could increase the chances of a fairer outcome for wives. In many cases once the childrens issues and spousal maintenance have been applied, there is very little or nothing left by the way of assets that would fall into the second stage of the 50:50 division."

Scope for fairness

The 50:50 approach would not increase existing hardship or poverty, nor would it put into poverty or cause hardship where it would not otherwise exist, argues Mrs Cleverley.

"Conversely, for the middle and upper income family there would be scope for great fairness where the split is applied. The case of White v White demonstrates this. Mrs White had an award at first instance which met her reasonable needs. The Court of Appeal recognised her rights as a business partner and increased her award.

"Can it be right and fair that the only circumstances where the wife gets more than her reasonable needs is where she can show herself as business partner as well as wife?

"If the 50:50 division were to be adopted, the approach would be: consider the children, meet the wifes reasonable needs and provide for the husbands reasonable needs and then, but only then, if there is anything left, make a 50:50 division. This would give complete protection across the social spectrum and fairness with the subsequent 50:50 split where funds make this possible."

Prenuptial agreements could override this 50:50 provision, although there would still be safeguards for childrens interests. For a party coming to a marriage with assets, the answer must be an enforceable prenuptial agreement, says Mrs Cleverley.

"It would be entirely flexible as to what terms are included. An enforceable agreement would give absolute certainty and clarity to the parties. The negotiations and final terms of the agreement could incorporate whatever events and protection a couple and their advisors consider necessary."

Unencumbered by stress

A prenuptial agreement can also give protection to parties other than those in the marriage, such as parents and grandparents, points out Mrs Cleverley, who expects that such an agreement would be used particularly in the case of second marriages.

Issues such as disability, going out of business and provision for children can also be covered and discussed in advance, unencumbered by the stress which a failed marriage or business imposes on negotiations.

"The court would retain its power to act if the agreement was entered into under a mistake, misrepresentation, duress or lack of full disclosure." Close attention would have to be paid in the drafting of the agreement to Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which currently governs the financial outcome of divorce.

Currently, prenuptial agreements, although made, are unenforceable.

The court will, however, take them into consideration. If they were introduced in future, one safeguard would probably be that both parties should receive independent legal advice before agreeing terms.