SHEARING contractors gathered in Perth last weekend for the West Australian Shearing Industry Association (WASIA) general meeting, where employment and training were the main topics of discussion.
WASIA president Darren Spencer said training, awards and employment conditions were the hot topic, as well as insurances and the return to work program.
About 50 attended the Perth and Tattersalls Bowling and Recreation Club, including 36 WASIA members, to hear from a range of speakers including Phil Brunner, from Bailiwick Legal, who gave attendees the opportunity to ask questions of concern around employment.
Mr Spencer said the association was in favour of a three month “reciprocal visa” program with the UK for shearers from there to come to WA during the busy season from January to March to help take the pressure off.
Currently Australian shearers can go to the UK from April to June but there is no agreement vice-versa.
Mr Spencer said since the “kiwis” weren’t coming in the same numbers as they use to there was a gap to fill in the workforce.
New Zealand shearers have been offered similar prices to Australian shearers which has caused them to stay home for work.
He said even with a handful of skilled shearers from the UK it would add to the workforce, and provide opportunities for Britons to learn more about the Australian system.
“It would mean we wouldn’t have to employ those who are not up to standard during the busy periods,” Mr Spencer said.
“They would come to work because they want to work.
“It would be just enough to take some pressure off.”
Mr Spencer said there were some employed in the industry that weren’t up to standard, noting concerns from woolgrowers and contractors that drugs and alcohol in the workplace was a major concern for the industry.
He said the Shearing Shed Safety Assessment Project had revealed some interesting results so far - even though there had only been 50 replies from shearers and 40 from growers all across Australia.
“We are really trying to get people to fill in the survey because it is bringing up some interesting results,” Mr Spencer said.
He said the five main issues for shearers was poor facilities and amenities in the shearing shed, alcohol and drug use in the workplace, the size and presentation of sheep, growers not providing safe equipment and working environment and sheep not off food and water for long enough.
Mr Spencer said he recently sheared a SAMM ewe that weighed 96kg after shearing.
He said working with heavy sheep like that all day was backbreaking work and one reason why injuries were common place in the trade.
He said sheep could handle being off food and water for longer than eight hours and the longer the better for contractors.
The five main issues for woolgrowers were surprisingly similar although topping the list was “not enough workers or availability of workers” to accomplish the job on time.
Second was drugs and alcohol in the workplace, followed by the quality of shearing and wool presentation, poor facilities and amenities and a lack of training and skills development opportunities.
Mr Spencer said he was surprised by the results but they were not the final results and he hoped more people would go online to fill out the survey.
AWEX ceo Mark Grave also presented the new Ebale scanner, which could inform the user of the origins of the bale of wool from farm to shearer, classer and transporter to agent.
“The end buyer can look up the details of the bale and see the history of it,” Mr Spencer said.
“It is a great system of traceability.”
Mr Spencer said his time as president would be up in June but he would stand again for election if nobody else put their hand up - although 12 years was a good stint.
“I’ll do it again if nobody else stands, but it’s time for someone else to step up,” he said.
“We have a good network now – the national organisations look at us more now and we are included in more discussions.
“We have more participation at our meetings and that’s a credit to our secretary Valerie Pretzel who has been helping members behind the scene with their issues.
“We attracted 3-4 new members this year.
“We also started the new ‘social member’ category so retired shearers and growers can continue to be involved and associate with the industry.”