LOCAL shearing contractors are not buying into an Eastern States' push for a payrise for shearers to lift the award rate from about $3.25 a sheep to more than $4 a sheep.
Closed borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many New Zealand shearers and their wool handler partners coming to Australia this year, with a shearer shortage having far more impact in the east than in WA where contractors rely less on imported labour.
There are reports of Eastern States' woolgrowers offering shearing teams more than double the award rate as an inducement to get flocks shorn before wool grows too long and begins to attract an effective discount at wool auctions on fleece with a staple length exceeding 110 millimetres.
At the West Australia Shearing Industry Association (WASIA) annual general meeting last month a question was asked whether local contractors would join the east coast push for an increased award rate of $4 per sheep or more.
Last week WASIA president and Lake Grace shearing contractor Darren Spencer clarified WASIA's position.
"WASIA's policy continues to be that the Federal award is a minimum and that individual contractors can, and do, pay rates above award as determined by the working conditions and size and condition of the sheep," Mr Spencer said.
"There is nothing restricting employers from paying their staff more.
"WASIA's view is that paying rates above award or at the award level is an individual business decision and we do not feel that recommending an amount to be paid over the award is necessary in Western Australia.
"As such, the association will not be issuing or recommending any specific or other pay rate schedule, apart from the minimum rate set out and legally specified by the Fair Work Commission Pastoral Award.
"WASIA's position is that more work is required to increase the size of the shearing workforce and to improve shed safety and working conditions.
"Our continuing focus is to increase training opportunities, attract workers to our industry and retain workers by improving working conditions.
"We are running training projects with AWI (Australian Wool Innovation) and DPIRD (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development) and have developed SafeSheds, the shearing shed safety program to make the wool harvesting workplace safer for all."
Peak woolgrower representative body, WoolProducers Australia, has also said there has been no official increase in the award rate for shearers and shed hands.
The WASIA and WoolProducers clarification of their positions follows a non-binding recommendation by the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia to its members of a 15 per cent increase in pay rate for a 60-day period.
WoolProducers chief executive Jo Hall said the Fair Work Commission was the body responsible for changes to awards and had a standard process which must be followed to apply for changes.
"As has been widely reported, parts of Australia are experiencing a significant shortage in shearers at the moment, which in turn has seen above award rates being paid to secure shearers," Ms Hall said.
"The current situation of woolgrowers having to pay above award rates is a completely commercial arrangement between the woolgrower and shearers or shearing contractors, but there is no legal obligation for growers to be paying above the award.
"However, unfortunately for growers, there are simply not enough shearers to do the job at this point in time and as with any supply and demand situation, the market must pay what is required to get the job done."