Life in an essential business - Paul Phipps


As an essential business, Fonterra’s operations are continuing to run.

However, things are a bit different with strict precautions in place to ensure our employees, their families and communities are kept safe during this time.

We caught up with Fonterra’s Lower North Island Depot Manager Paul Phipps, or Phippsy as he’s known to the team, to find out how they’re getting used to the new way of operating.

1. As a depot manager you are responsible for a team of tanker drivers. What does being an essential business mean for Fonterra’s milk collection?

Farmers’ milk is still being collected and processed as normal and collection volumes are not wildly different to previous seasons at this time of year, considering this season’s challenges included a significant drought in the North and flooding in the South.

We take our status as an essential service very seriously. It’s a privilege and a responsibility that we don’t take lightly, and we have strict precautions in place to ensure our employees, their families and communities are kept safe during this time.

Right now, the most important thing we can all do is follow the safety measures that have been put in place to keep us protected, and work with the rest of the country to break the chain of COVID-19. 

Paul Phipps, Fonterra Lower North Island Depot Manager

2. What changes have been made to ensure the safety of everyone in your team?

We’ve taken a number of steps to ensure the safety of our people, including:

  • Those drivers aged over 70 or immune compromised have been stood down to reduce risk to their health.
  • We've cancelled shift briefs and other group meetings to reduce any person-to-person risk. This also applies to eating and smoking areas.
  • We have staggered starts to minimise the amount of people at the depot and have switched from meetings being held face to face to written communication with whiteboards and paper copies.
  • All employees (either on-farm or at work) are practicing social distancing - that is keeping more than 2-metres apart.
  • All drivers are carrying sanitiser to use regularly while out on collection and we have it at all points we touch onsite.

We all know we have an important part to play in breaking the chain and living our safety values at work and at home, because that’s is what is going to get us through this.

3. What is top of mind every day for you and your team right now?

Obviously, minimising the spread of COVID-19 is top concern.

For my team, the big focus for us is in our actions and asking ourselves ‘What can I do to make sure I am safe?’ And starting to think, ‘now is not the time to rely on others to make sure my work area, for example my cab, is clean, when I hop in it, I own it.’

4. How are Fonterra farmers responding to the changes?

Our shareholders have been great. We arrive at a lot of farms and they have set up cleaning/sanitising stations for us and are fully aware of social distancing.

We have also received great notes from a lot of them who are really appreciative of what we’re doing during these trying times.

5. How are tanker drivers finding life on the road? – The roads must be quieter!

I’m hearing a lot from our tanker drivers around how life is a lot easier not having to worry about traffic jams and roadwork, so that’s a positive.

6. Overall, how are your team and the farmers they interact with feeling?

Tanker drivers and shareholders are owning the situation. Shareholders live partly in isolation all year round so not a massive change. And tanker drivers are well known to take things in their stride and continue to keep the wheels turning. I couldn’t be involved with a better bunch to knock this thing over!