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