Workers in rural areas come and go – it’s the nature of the business. But that’s not much consolation to rural farm employers during the picking season. Onboarding all those transient workers can feel like an endless task.
“Someone might be there for two days, two hours, two weeks, two months,” says Anna Geddes, a Regional Manager with Australian Retirement Trust. “You can onboard someone, and before the next pay run, they’re gone. So, you have to continually onboard new employees during the season.”
Many farms still use onboarding processes they’ve stuck with for years, which doesn’t make the job any easier. Their payroll system may be modern, but how they onboard new employees is still done with physical paperwork. This can be time-consuming, challenging for transient workers, and lead to errors.
Geddes’ fellow Regional Manager, Bruce Waltisbuhl, says: “A lot of the farms I deal with use manual paperwork. When someone comes to work at a farm, they'll probably get an employee pack that says, give us your bank account, your tax file number and your super fund, and they just go, ‘What do you mean? What’s a super fund?’ A lot of transient workers don’t know what a super fund is, and there can be a language barrier, too.
“In season, it’s not unusual for farms to be onboarding hundreds of people at a time. They need something that’s going to help lessen the amount paperwork to do.”
How SFO can help
SFO can make onboarding quicker and easier. Together with Australian Retirement Trust, Beam offers SFO to employers to allow them to add new employees, invite employees to validate their personal details, record employees’ super fund choices and tax file number (TFN) declarations in one secure place, and confirm existing super accounts to help with stapling requirements.
Rather than issuing a new employee with a superannuation standard choice form, waiting for that to come back and then processing it, employers can enter the employee’s email address or phone number into the system. The employee receives a message inviting them to provide their TFN and super fund information electronically.
This is all recorded instantly, so employers can set up their super payments quickly and accurately. This can save time, and potentially costs in terms of hours worked doing payroll admin.
Supporting Pinata Farms with its seasonal workforce
Pinata Farms, based at Wamuran on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, has more than 1000 hectares under cultivation around Australia, growing pineapples, mangoes, and berries. It has been using Beam’s SFO since October 2022, and Pinata HR Support Officer, Samantha Ford is a big fan.
“Using SFO has helped to streamline onboarding of our new employees, both local backpackers and our large number of seasonal workers. Opening a new super account is quick and easy. If an applicant already has an ART account number, the onboarding tool tells us their existing client number. SFO is incredibly simple and straightforward to use,” she says.
SFO can make compliance easy – even with the stapling rules. It can also minimise errors. Geddes says: “The amount of super choice forms that go back to employers with the incorrect USI number or the wrong product number. That would be a pain point.”
When an employee fills in their details with SFO, the fund’s ABN and USI are filled in automatically and checked with the ATO in real-time.
Taking advantage of using a digital onboarding tool can also eliminate the need to store lots of paperwork and allows employers to track new employees’ journeys and support them every step of the way. For a farm like Pinata that employs 70 full-time employees and up to 500 seasonal workers that’s significant time saved that’s better spent preparing new staff for the year-round production responsibilities of the farm.
The other piece of the puzzle is retaining staff. With unemployment lingering at record low levels and rural employers finding it tough to attract workers, it’s become more important than ever to keep staff engaged. And SFO can play a role in that, helping to establish a positive relationship from the get-go.
“Employers can process the new employee onboarding quicker, which could lead to greater job satisfaction,” Waltisbuhl says. And that might make workers less likely to seek new pastures. The recent hiring trends report article highlighted how having a robust onboarding process can have a direct impact on retention.
Onboarding a transient workforce the old-fashioned way can take a lot of time and effort. And farms, more than most businesses, can benefit from going digital. SFO is available at no cost for Employer Online (EOL) registered users. With SFO, it could be a lot easier to onboard that next crop of staff.
Beam is part of the Australian Retirement Trust Group. Beam is issued by Precision Administration Services Pty Ltd (Precision) (ABN 47 098 977 667, AFSL No. 246 604). Precision is wholly owned by Australian Retirement Trust Pty Ltd (ABN 88 010 720 840, AFSL No. 228 975) (via its custodian) as Trustee for Australian Retirement Trust (ABN 60 905 115 063). Read the PDS and FSG at beamconnect.com.au before considering if our services are appropriate for you.