“They work them until they are exhausted, so many are injured and there is no regulation,” alleged Helen Kelly, who has continued campaigning despite stepping down from her leadership role in October of last year.
Kelly, who is battling lung cancer, regularly uses social media to voice her concerns, often citing advertisements that require staff to work 60 hours a week.
Dairy Industry Group chairman Andrew Hoggard said the problem is caused by a common misconception.
"What's happened in the past is that people have viewed it as low hours during winter, high in spring so everything balances out sweet as. But you can't do that legally,” he told Stuff. “Someone might only work for you in spring.”
Hoggard also acknowledged the discrepancies between urban work and rural work.
"The challenge on the farm as opposed to in town, if you were in a factory in town the swipe card that gets you through the door clocks you in and out. On farm there is no door, in some cases it's several hundred hectares of land. You might start the day at the cowsheds, or getting the cows in, every day is different. Some days are easier than others."
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The former president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) is calling for an official inquiry into the treatment of farm workers, claiming their pay may be slipping below minimum wage.