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Sharemilking Disputes - Claim Too Late And Miss Out

24 February 2014

Ms C. owned a dairy farm and herd and employed Mr. W. as her sharemilker. The relationship between Ms C. and Mr W. deteriorated to the point where Ms C. ordered Mr W. to leave her property when he arrived at work at 5.00am on 21 November 2010.

Mr W. arranged for a letter to be personally delivered to Ms C. on 22 November 2010 – the day after he had been ordered to leave the property. This letter stated, among other things, that Ms C. had breached their agreement by refusing Mr W. access to the milking shed. Mr W.’s solicitor sent a further letter to Ms C. on 17 December 2010.

 

Mr W. can bring his claim, but…

The judge in this case was asked to decide whether Mr W. had validly commenced his claim. The agreement was covered by the Sharemilking Agreements Order 2001. That Order provided that no claims could be brought by the employer or the sharemilker unless full details had been given to the other party within 21 clear business days of the claimant becoming aware of the breach or within 21 clear business days of the end of the season.

The judge held that:

  • The 22 November letter was valid notice of a claim even though it did not specifically state that it was formal notice under the 2001 Order.
  • The 17 December letter was not valid notice because it had not been sent in the manner prescribed by the 2001 Order.
  • Even though Mr W. was allowed to bring his claim, the judge commented that Mr W. might ultimately be unsuccessful in his claims if the breaches outlined in the 22 November letter had occurred more than 21 business days before that letter was served. The judge also commented that Mr W.’s claims will be limited to those detailed in that letter – further claims could not be added later.

     

    The Sharemilking Agreements Order 2011

    The 2001 Order has since been replaced by the Sharemilking Agreements Order 2011.  Both the 2001 and 2011 Order were made under the Sharemilking Agreements Act 1938. This Act governs every sharemilking agreement where the herd is provided by the employer. The Act states that no sharemilking agreement can contain terms that are less favourable to the sharemilker than those contained in the applicable Order. The time period for bringing claims under the 2011 Order is 20 working days of the claimant becoming aware of the breach or 20 working days from the end of the season. Once served with a claim, the other party must serve the claimant with any counterclaim within 10 working days. The 2011 Order requires the parties to negotiate in good faith and co-operate to resolve any dispute. If the dispute is not resolved by negotiation then the parties must proceed to conciliation. If that is not successful, the parties must submit the dispute to arbitration.

     

    Bringing a claim

    The requirements of the 2011 Order enable farmers and sharemilkers to start the new season afresh without worrying about claims arising from previous seasons. As soon as you become aware of a breach of your sharemilking agreement, the safest course is to seek legal advice regarding the timing and details required for a successful claim.

     

    Please email me at barbara.mcdermott@nwm.co.nz with your ideas for future articles.  Keep an eye out for next month’s column, where I will discuss another relevant rural legal issue.

     


     

    Barbara McDermott is a partner of Norris Ward McKinnon, specialising in commercial and rural law.  With offices in Hamilton and Huntly, we have friendly, expert legal advisors ready to help you with your business and personal legal matters.   Find out more about us at www.nwm.co.nz