Finding good employees can be challenging for many Canadian farmers. The task can be even more daunting for livestock farmers when you consider the fact that the job applicant could be an animal rights activist intending to gather video evidence of animal abuse that will be posted on the Internet or turned over to the news media.
It’s something every farm employer has to be aware of and take steps to prevent, says Kelly Daynard, communications manager for Farm & Food Care Ontario, which is committed to building public trust in food and farming. In recent years members of animal rights groups such as Mercy for Animals have been going undercover on farms for weeks or months, shooting hidden video camera footage and turning it over to TV programs such as CBC’s Marketplace and CTV’s W5.
Activists have been successful in gaining access to a wide range of farm and food operations ranging from dairy, turkey and pork farms to animal transportation and processing plants. “There are some people who are very good at creating identities, new names and erroneous references and getting themselves hired on farms in Canada,” says Daynard.
It’s a good reminder that farm employers shouldn’t always hire someone who walks in and says they want to work for you. Farmers, especially in the livestock industry, really need to create and follow a series of checks and balances before they hire that employee.
Daynard says it’s vital to have a written code of conduct for your workplace. This should outline how farmers treat their animals and how employees are expected to treat the animals. “Farmers have to lead by example. That’s the most important part,” she says adding that the industry should have no tolerance for farmers who mistreat their animals.
“I don’t know anybody in agriculture who is going to defend a bad operator. If there are bad operators, they should be taken to task for what they are doing and they should be put out of business,” says Daynard. Farm & Food Care, however, takes issues with activists who work undercover for weeks or months and witness abuse without reporting it. “If they really cared about those animals they could go to the police, SPCA or the humane society in their area and file a complaint,” but they choose to perpetuate the bad behaviour for the purpose of capturing footage.
“Certainly some of the footage we’ve seen from these undercover efforts is awful stuff and those people deserve to be charged, but there are other cases where things can absolutely be misconstrued,” says Daynard. For example, if every parent had some of their children’s early years edited down to one 30-second or two-minute clip, “you wouldn’t have a good parent in the country. That can be the same for animals,” she adds.
To keep activists from infiltrating their workforce, Daynard offers farmers the following tips:
• Always check references. Request them, follow up and check on every employee you are hiring. “That’s the easiest way to prevent the problem and determine that they are who they say they are,” says Daynard.
• Always offer training to new employees and make sure existing employees are retrained on a regular basis to ensure that they are all following farm processes deemed important, especially in terms of animal welfare.
• Have and enforce a code of conduct for your farm workplace. “Having a written code of conduct that employees sign when they become an employee will certainly help protect you,” adds Daynard.
• Make sure employees are following your farm’s animal welfare standards. Check on them, follow-up with them, and watch what they are doing.
• Check in with employees to make sure they understand the tasks and are comfortable executing those tasks. “There are some jobs on farm that can be tough – not everybody can work with livestock. You need to make sure they have the background and comfort level needed to work with the animals on your farm,” says Daynard.
• Implement and enforce a mobile phone policy. Employees should not be allowed to have cameras and recording devices in the workplace. They can leave them in their lockers and check during meals and breaks.
Daynard says red flags should go up “when someone shows up out of the blue and wants to work for you. Farmers should also be wary of somebody who has no farm experience and says they’ve always wanted to work on a farm.”
Also be cautious of job hunters who try too hard in the interview and appear too eager to please.