A roster is a list or a plan that shows when people who work on the farm will be on duty. Rosters are typically used to schedule time off and to schedule tasks. A roster can be a formal computer-generated spreadsheet or written on a year planner, calendar, whiteboard or a piece of paper.

The success of a roster depends on the planning that goes into it and commitment by everyone to make it work. It needs to be fair for everyone and to be stuck to except in exceptional circumstances.

It is important to consider how many hours each person on the farm is requested to work, whether they are family members or employees. A sustainable roster takes into consideration timing that best suits the individuals, including breaks between shifts and start and finish times. Working conditions around time has some reasonable guidelines.

Include time for taking breaks and going on leave in the roster. Make sure that people are covered for when they are on a break or leave. Breaks are important for providing rest time as well as an opportunity for the team to get together and chat. See the Pastoral Award 2010 and National Employment Standards for entitlements for meal breaks, rest breaks and leave.

The hours a person works on average each week has a significant impact on their work-life balance. A common reason for poor retention on some farms is expecting employees to work beyond reasonable additional hours. The Pastoral Award 2010 and National Employment Standards provide details on ordinary and overtime hours of work.

When designing a roster, use it as an opportunity to examine everyone’s hours. Roster on extra people if needed rather than allocating too many hours to a few individuals. A carefully designed roster can help avoid the need to pay penalty rates for overtime for employees under the Pastoral Award 2010. Read more about overtime and ordinary hours (in terms of creating your roster).

Take into consideration the circumstances of individuals when planning the roster and ask them about their preferences for time off. Some people will have recreational or family commitments that require time off. Some people may want more frequent, shorter breaks whilst others prefer longer periods of work followed by longer breaks.

Changing regular rosters and ordinary hours

The Pastoral Award 2010 says that employers need to consult with employees about changes to their regular roster or ordinary hours.

If an employer wants to change an employee’s regular roster or ordinary hours of work, and the employee is covered by a modern award, they should:

  • give the employee information about the change
  • ask the employee to give their view on the impact of the change (including impacts to family / caring responsibilities)
  • consider the employee’s view about the change.

This applies to all employees with a regular roster or hours of work, regardless of whether they’re full-time, part-time or casual.

Employees are allowed to be represented as part of this process. Any disputes about changes can be resolved by using the award’s dispute resolution clause.

A good roster:

  • is simple and easy to follow;
  • has some flexibility;
  • shows the work that is going to happen and can incorporate unplanned tasks that arise.

Setting rosters in advance is important so people can plan their time off. It is better to organise a roster too much in advance than too little. It is always possible to make changes to the roster once the initial plan is in place.

Designing a roster that works for everyone

Cossack Holdings is a corporate farm near Port Campbell in south west Victoria. The farm milks 1000 cows. After many years of trying several different rosters, Gary, the farm manager, says they now have a roster that seems to work for everyone.

There are two production managers who, along with Gary, work a four days on, two days off shift. This means that on any day there will always be two of them on the farm. One starts early and finishes early whilst the other does the late shift. The rolling four on, two off shift is great for them because it gives them regular time off and four busy days in a row are enough.

Jim, the machinery manager, has commitments on weekends that mean he does a five-days-a-week shift. He manages to have everything in order by each Friday so that there is little need for his role on the weekend, which is covered by the other managers.

The three full-time milking staff also run on a four on, two off roster and are very happy with it. There are some casual milkers who fill in for them so that there is flexibility around time off. They do two shifts per day from 5 a.m. till 9 a.m. then 2 p.m. till 5.30 p.m. The early finish is important for them to get home at a reasonable time.

A concerted effort was made in recent years to make sure that no one is working more hours per week than they wish. There are few weeks of the year now when anyone works more than 50 hours, most averaging around 40-45 hours. This is a sustainable level of input that allows everyone to have a life outside of work and where the regular two days off gives them an opportunity to refresh.