Industry lobbying for shearing, shedhand "bubble"

Labour shortage looms as industry calls for 'ag bubble'

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Industry bodies estimate there could be a shortage of between 480-500 shearers for the coming peak spring season. WoolProducers Australia chief executive Jo H...

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SHEARER SHORTAGE: St Helens wool producer David Rowbottom says he's having difficulties in getting shearers, for this year's clip. Picture: Rob Gunstone

SHEARER SHORTAGE: St Helens wool producer David Rowbottom says he's having difficulties in getting shearers, for this year's clip. Picture: Rob Gunstone

Industry bodies estimate there could be a shortage of between 480-500 shearers for the coming peak spring season.

WoolProducers Australia chief executive Jo Hall said the organisation had been working on resolving shearer shortages since April.

"We've been aware there may be a problem in gaining access to Kiwi shearers and shed hands, for spring," Ms Hall said.

"At that time we were hopeful things would be resolved, but we were not game enough to stop lobbying."

Read more:

Travel restrictions to result in national shearer shortage

Ms Hall said the suggestion to use unemployed Victorians as shearers and shed hands was impractical.

"While there has been a concerted effort to run some training days, it simply won't address the shortages this spring," she said.

"It's just not feasible. There are a lot of displaced workers but we can't get displaced retail or hospitality workers shearing - it just doesn't happen."

She said requiring shearers to get individual visas was not the answer.

"The quarantine requirements are quite onerous, so we are trying to get a shearer/shed hand bubble established.

"If you are an individual, and you have to go through the process of getting a visa, it's quite daunting.

"They ask for specific travel dates, but who's going to book tickets, until they have the visa?"

She said WPA was heartened by the precedent set recently by the federal government, allowing mango pickers from Vanuatu into the Northern Territory.

The Australian and Northern Territory Governments have agreed to arrangements for a targeted trial to help meet mango growers' labour needs.

The trial will see controlled Seasonal Worker Programme's recruitments allowing up to 170 workers from Vanuatu to enter Australia to help with the 2020 mango season.

Ms Hall said she hadn't heard if the same thing could apply to shearers and shed hands.

"We continue to lobby for that to happen."

She said when stringent NSW restrictions were announced, she received a letter from a Hamilton contractor, who had two teams set to work there, about to shear 140,000 sheep over the next six to eight weeks..

"I forwarded that on to NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall.

"I hope there is a resolution to get around that - the decision wasn't common sense, it was a ridiculous concept."

Shearing Contractors Association of Australia secretary Jason Letchford said his members estimated the industry would be short about 500 shearers this year.

"There is no silver bullet, everyone is doing their best, but one of the silver linings is training, particularly in South Australia and Victoria.

He said there were at least 60 trainee shearers, going through courses at the moment.

'It's not 500, but it's a fantastic start,: he said.

"I'd encourage contractors to get their best shed hands to pick up a handpiece, then backfill htem into learner positions.

"If we can get another 100 learners up, by the time Christmas comes, they could be shearing 100-120 sheep.

"Those numbers add up quickly, to put a dent in the problem."

He said when the border closures occurred, the industry recognised there was going to be a problem.

"We were well aware of the transient nature of the Kiwis and South Africans, coming here," he said.

"We estimated there were 480 workers, most of those shearers, who normally come across at this time of the year, late winter, and stay here until December."

He estimated those workers would shear four and a half million to five million sheep.

"The sheep will eventually get shorn,

"But the first problem is lambing, the eastern states have had a fantastic lambing this year, because of the conditions.

"It becomes an animal welfare issue, with lambs perishing because of not mothering and pregnant toxicity if the ewes are not shorn in a timely manner."

Shearer shortage

That comes as one prominent western Victorian fine wool grower, David Rowbottom, St Helens, says he can't get shearers.

"I've got one contractor booked from Robe, South Australia, and if he won't be able to come, then I've got no shearers," Mr Rowbottom said.

"We had one local, but he's not able to do the work, and we haven't been able to replace him.

Mr Rowbottom said he intended to shear a couple of thousand Merinos, but was concerned about the SA border restrictions, stopping his replacement shearer from travelling to Victoria.

Rod Barty, Roket Shearing, Strathfieldsaye, said he had a team of 20 to 25 shearers and predicted the coming shearing season would be "interesting.

"We are going to have to social distance in the older sheds, but most of the newer sheds are fine, they are spread out a bit more," Mr Barty said.

Social distancing would mean it would take longer to shear the same number of sheep.

"We didn't really stop, it was pretty consistent, all winter and its really going to ramp up, from now."

Mr Barty said social distancing rules, the shortage of shearers, due to restrictions on travel from New Zealand, and border restrictions would mean farmers would have to be flexible.

"It's going to push the season out, some people need sheep shorn, at certain dates, because of lambing - everyone can't wait, so it's going to be difficult to navigate around.

'I've had a few calls, from people who have seen the writing on the wall, and who have booked in early.

"We'll be deciding on a case-by-case basis, we will be flexible, with farmers, but we'll do our own clients first, and if there's any room, we'll try and fit others in."

Mr Barty said there was no short term fix.

"The only cure is getting young people in and getting them trained up, but that takes years.'

Justin Bassett, Optimum Shear, Avenel, said he arrived in NSW before the border lockdown but hadn't been able to get any more staff into the state since.

"The border crossing laws have made things very difficult, I have run short of staff," Mr Bassett said.

"We have been in quarantine for 14 days, but we were able to work, as we were on a property, so we were by ourselves."

Mr Bassett said when his team was working around home, in Mitchell Shire, during the first stage of restrictions, shearers had to work every second stand.

"That's not going to be viable, as it's pusing the cost of shearing up - with the price of wool, it's going to be very hard, for the farmer," Mr Bassett said.

"It's going to take a fair bit of working out this season, with the rules changing."

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