Wool Processing

Most shearing contractors back 15pc pay rate increase

Terry Sim, February 3, 2021

SCAA secretary Jason Letchford.

EXPERIENCED shedhands, wool pressers, cooks, crutchers and sheep shearers are included in pay rate increases to help shearing contractors retain staff over the next two months.

Most members of the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia have adopted a 15pc pay rate increases to help them attract and retain staff from 1 February to 30 March this year.

The increase means the pay rates with participating SCAA members would rise to a flock shearing rate of $3.73 a head, to $70.60 per two-hour run for an experienced shed hand, to $74.69 per run for a not found wool presser and to $305.84 per day for a cook.

Australian Workers Union New South Wales vice-president Ron Cowdrey said any pay increase for shearers and shed staff is long overdue and clearly welcome.

“Shearers and shed staff deserve a far bigger pay increase and one that will actually make a difference to their weekly pay packet.

“More importantly, they also need any pay rise to be permanent,” he said.

“That is why the Australian Workers’ Union is proposing to raise the award rate by a dollar a head for shearers and increasing rates for all shed staff.”

NSW contractors back pay increase

SCAA secretary Jason Letchford said all shed worker rates have been recommended to increase for the two-month period, with the exception of learner shearers and inexperienced shed hands with less than 65 days industry experience.

The association said the pay rate increases will be adopted by most SCAA members in New South Wales and in parts of Queensland and Victoria, with other contractors in South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia and Victoria deciding to stick to the current pastoral award rates.

The SCAA said the initiative comes after months of monitoring the extraordinary ‘pay-rate explosion’ in the price of shearing occurring in many parts of Australia.

Western Australian association sees no need for increase initiative

WA Shearing Industry Association president Darren Spencer said the 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.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Spencer said 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 and DPIRD and have developed SafeSheds, the shearing shed safety program to make the wool harvesting workplace safer for all. Details can be found at www.wasia.com.au/services/safesheds.

Many areas still paying $4 shearing rate

SCAA president Michael Schofield said it is worth noting than the recommended shearing rate of $3.73 is still 7pc lower than the rates currently paid in many areas of $4 or more.

“The lower rate is designed to provide some stability for regions who are more severely affected by shearer shortages, without fuelling the current ‘bidding-war’ being led by growers who need to ‘queue jump’ the long waiting list to have their sheep shorn,” he said.

Mr Letchford said ABS data showed that the industry lost more than 32pc of its workforce between 2006 and 2016 and more since then.

“Given that only 18pc of our workforce have incomes above the ‘national average’, with about half our workforce earning less than $50,000 per annum, it’s these facts that give weight to the argument the shearing industry’s workforce, are under-paid at present.

“The move is definitely out of the ordinary, but it is an extraordinary situation the industry currently finds itself in,” he said.

“The decision to make the recommendation supports the SCAA’s ‘middle ground’ approach between woolgrowers and workers, a role that it has played for much of its 90-year history.

AWU has lost influence on conditions and pay rates – SCAA

The SCAA said it is traditionally the position of the Australian Workers Union to argue for increases to workers pay rates, but given that the AWU’s loss of influence on conditions and pay rates since the early 1980s, it can be argued that worker’s pay rates have fallen too far behind other industries.

“Our unofficial charter is to ensure that the cost of shearing is not prohibitively high, discouraging farmers away from sheep production but conversely, the shearing industry obviously needs skilled workers to harvest sheep producers’ livelihoods.

“The declining retention rate of shearers in the industry reflects that the current industry pay rates, are not high enough to compete with other comparable industries,” Mr Letchford said.

“This, combined with shearing being a ‘tough’ job and being perform in some tough conditions, pay needs to be addressed as one of numerous factors required to improve our ability to attract and retain workers.”

New rates not compulsory

Mr Schofield said the new recommended rate schedule is certainly not compulsory and only a recommendation.

“Consequently, it will not be adopted across all of the country.

“As a general rule, it is the regions which have slower shearing sheep, who are adopting the recommended rate as an offset to the lower tallies and daily pay,” he said.

Mr Schofield said it is in the traditional Merino sheep regions, where workers have left to pursue faster shearing sheep or better pay, that replacements cannot be found at award rates.

“This is the main reason that more than 70pc of members, voted in favour of such a recommendation.”

End date to pay increases

Mr Letchford said The reason that the recommendation has an ‘end date’, is due to ‘supply and demand’ factors. New Zealand workers will be certainly watching the ‘state of play’ here in Australia and the pay-rate increase will no doubt act as a strong incentive for NZ shearing workers to come to Australia sooner rather than later, the SCAA said. With their main shear slowing down around April, the influx of NZ workers, may happen here, sooner rather than later.

“In other words, if the supply of shearers does increase, the SCAA does not want members being caught in an ‘uncompetitive’ situation and should forewarn its workers that these rates may not be permanent.

“The SCAA is very clear in their understanding that this pay-rate increase is not solving the current crisis, but hoping it will help stabilise the situation in many regions. The status quo won’t improve in the medium to long term, unless we increase the supply of shearers,” Mr Letchford said.

SCAA said it is working with WoolProducers Australia, Australian Wool Innovation, National Farmers Federation and the various state farming bodies on other strategies to attract and maintain the required number of workers, to harvest the nation’s wool clip.

Click here for more detail on the new SCAA pay rates

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Comments

  1. Doug Wright, February 5, 2021

    The shearing rate once was about the cost of 15 ounces of beer in the public bar where the shearers drank. The current rate does not buy 10 ounces now, thus shearers’ terms of trade have declined greatly. Simply, is it any wonder that we have a shearer shortage?

  2. Jim Gordon, February 5, 2021

    Mr Schofield is right onto it. There are two problems that haven’t been discussed and should be addressed. Firstly, he sheep are to heavy or are getting to heavy, and secondly, there are too many sheep that are slow shearing sheep. Money won’t fix these two problems. The shearer needs someone else to pull these heavy sheep onto the board, and the fly-ridden, bad-combing sheep will drive shearers out of the industry.
    The first job is to breed a sheep to a more manageable weight and then to breed sheep that will comb. Then a standard shearer can shear an acceptable tally. Then as Peter Small talks about, get an arbitration done on a pay rise.

  3. Donald Cameron, February 3, 2021

    This will accelerate a trend to self-shedding sheep. No shearers required.

  4. Quin Plozza, February 3, 2021

    It’s not rocket science – if it takes $7 to get shearers, then that’s what the rate should be.
    Like many shearers, I gave up years ago, because all my friends that I grew up with worked in mining, oil, gas or other industries, and were earning twice as much as me. So I joined them. Even farm workers and managers make more than wool industry workers. That never happened back when I started shearing.
    The wool industry pay rates have not kept up with other industries, not even close. Probably the start of it was the split between the workers and their union representation.
    And as for attracting new people into the industry, 99 percent of sheds in Western Australia that I worked in didn’t have basic human amenities. It’s good that this has finally been recognised. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a wool grower and I shear my own sheep in mobs of about 500 at a lot of different times throughout the year, because I can and it works with my eight-monthly shearings.
    How many young crew have been put through shearing or wool handling training each year for the last 10 years? Where are they? And why aren’t they in the industry. Apart from the previous reasons stated above, the other reason is they can’t get a start or if the contractor puts them on they get dropped out of the team as soon as the work slows. So they’re sitting down for up to six months of the year or they get three days a week or breaks between sheds. And if you are a learner shearer you are up for thousands of dollars of gear before you even start. I gave learners lots of old gear, but old thin and worn out gear doesn’t help a learner.
    The problem is that the contractor is competing for the work too. So as soon as he can cut costs, he will. That means no regular work for the newbie. I’d say that’s probably not so much the case since COVID-19 because of all the extra work left over from the absence of the fly-in shearers. But those are some of the reasons why it’s the way it is now.

  5. Peter+Small, February 3, 2021

    Again I express caution about having an award that is meaningless and irrelevant. There is no reason not to seek Fair Work Australia’s approval for a 15 percent increase in the Federal Pastoral Award. Familiar as I am with workers along the entire textile chain, there is no other segment of the industry that is as hard working, skillful and productive as the Australian wool shed. A 15pc increase in itself will draw national attention to our industry and act as an immediate recruitment driver. The industry also needs to get off its arse and demand increased funding for industry training from government.

  6. Tom Casey, February 3, 2021

    New South Wales, where the sheep are as big as whales.

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