SHEARING contractors in Western Australia have agreed to share experienced shearers and shed hands to try to help each other handle this year's peak September-October spring shearing in a timely manner.
A likely shortage of experienced shearers and wool handlers in WA this season due to the State's COVID-19 border closure preventing shearers and wool handlers from New Zealand and Eastern States coming in to supplement local shearing teams, was discussed at length on Saturday at the WA Shearing Industry Association (WASIA) annual general meeting.
Views within the WA industry have previously differed on the likely impact of the border closure on spring shearing because many New Zealand shearers and their wool handler partners, who once came to WA for the spring then returned home for their shearing season start in December, are now permanent residents here.
But on Saturday about 45 shearing contractors attending the annual meeting agreed there was likely to be a shortage of experienced shed staff during the peak this year because of COVID-19 entry restrictions and requirements, WASIA secretary Val Pretzel confirmed.
This could lead to shearings taking longer than usual, with subsequent delays for other woolgrowers, or woolgrowers being unable to find a contractor to shear their flock at a particular time, Ms Pretzel warned.
"We are urging woolgrowers to talk to their (shearing) contractor as soon as they can so both can plan ahead and to, where possible, perhaps bring shearings forward to August to relieve pressure on the peak of the season," Ms Pretzel said.
"The contractors (at the annual meeting) discussed what they could do about it and they've agreed to try and help each other through the peak period by sharing experienced staff.
"It might be that it isn't as busy in one area as another, or it rains in one area and not another area so wet sheep can't be shorn, but dry sheep in another area can be, so contractors will move their staff about to help one another to get the job done as best they can."
WASIA surveyed 48 shearing contractor members earlier in the year on the number of people likely to be needed to shear and process this year's wool clip.
"They said they needed 179-180 shearers and with shed staff, a total of about 350 people," Ms Pretzel said.
She said it was not yet known how many shearers and shed staff would be available this spring and what the likely shortfall would be.
"We've been increasing our shearer training and there's more local shearers now coming through into the industry, but it's not a quick fix for this year," Ms Pretzel said.
"It takes years of practice to build up the speed and professionalism required by the industry - shearing is a skill and shearers are working with valuable animals."
Ms Pretzel said WASIA had been working with contractors and State and Federal governments to establish what the requirements would be for shearers coming into WA from interstate or overseas.
"It's a complicated process and it's changed daily at times," she said.
Ms Pretzel said a shearer or wool handler arriving in WA from New Zealand or anywhere else overseas had to submit an online travel request to the Federal government, supported by an accompanying letter from a shearing contractor specifying details of a mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
If allowed to enter Australia the shearer or wool handler has to be tested for COVID-19 within 48 hours of arrival and again between days 10 and 12 of quarantine.
Once travel into Australia is allowed, the shearer or wool handler then has to apply to the WA Police chief commissioner for a G2G (Good to Go) pass to enter WA, Ms Pretzel said.
"We've been working with governments on the basis shearers and wool handlers have critical skills and should be allowed in, but we understand they will have to go into quarantine when they get here, we're not seeking an exemption from that," she said.
Ms Pretzel said she knew of only one New Zealand shearer to go through the application process and be granted approval to be in WA for spring shearing.
"Out of all the applications, I'm aware of only one that's been approved, but then there's another problem," she said.
"There's no flights at the moment between New Zealand and Australia and they've been told the first flight is in early September and if there's less than 50 people booked on it, the flight is likely to be cancelled."
Ms Pretzel said WASIA had received a good hearing from State Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan who had taken concerns about a shortage of shearers this spring to her cabinet colleagues.
Also at the annual meeting, Ms Pretzel and re-elected WASIA president and Lake Grace shearing contractor Darren Spencer presented a report on the shearing shed safety assessment program.
Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) has provided funds for WASIA to develop a national assessment program targeted at woolgrowers and shearing shed operators and aimed at helping them manage their duty of care and workplace safety obligations.
Workers' compensation insurance company CGU has also provided funding and WoolProducers Australia, WAFarmers, Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA and Safe Farms WA are supporting the program.
AWI's shearer training schools and a learner shearer and work experience program were also discussed at the annual meeting which was held a month later than usual because of earlier COVID-19 social distancing and meeting numbers restrictions.
The WASIA executive committee remained unchanged after the annual meeting.
Mr Spencer was re-elected president for a new two-year term and committee members Eddie McEllister, Narrogin, Brad Butcher, Moora and Rob Carter, Narrogin, were also re-elected for new terms.