Shearing contractors need Pacific labour flexibility

Terry Sim, March 28, 2022

SCAA secretary Jason Letchford.

PACIFIC Island worker employment arrangements for the wool industry need to be flexible to encourage shearing contractor participation, according to the sector’s national body.

Shearing Contractor Association of Australia national secretary Jason Letchford said this included a nine-month visa rather than the 12-month arrangement currently being discussed.

“We need to find that that balance between engaging with our workers and keeping them interested in the industry by giving them good periods of work.

“It’s got to be worthwhile for them, but on the flip side, from the employers perspective, in the quiet part of the season, there needs to be some flexibility that those workers can go and do something else during that time,” he said.

“A nine-month visa for example would work better than a 12-month visa, because there is a quiet part of the year where an employer is going to struggle finding full-time employment for that worker.”

These and other issues, including accommodation, were discussed at meeting between the industry and the Pacific Labour Facility on the Pacific Australian Labour Mobility Scheme on 18 March.

“We found out during the meeting that there would be a requirement for the workers to contribute to part of their accommodation costs.

“Overall, the reason the Pacific Australian Labour Mobility scheme hasn’t got up and running in this sector has been that the cost of the scheme would be roughly about 60-70 percent more than employing a domestic worker.”

There was also a conversation to be had around how the PALM scheme could employee Pacific Islanders as shearers working on the current payment-per-sheep system rather than as full-time employees, Mr Letchford said.

“We need to work through the details of ensuring that they are paid fairly and correctly.

“The details on that payment mechanism needs to be worked through.”

Nevertheless, Mr Letchford said the ability to employ unskilled Pacific workers under PALM for training to be shearers was a “real gamechanger.”

“The financial viability and the flexibility has been the two biggest impediments to success and the government is aware of that, and industry is working with the government to break down those barriers to its viability.”

Mr Letchford said there still appeared to be issues with the industry accessing workers via the ag visa system.

“SCAA is not aware of a visa that is easily available to bring in skilled workers from these other countries – including the United Kingdom, United States and Canada.

“It is possible, but it is certainly not an easy open pathway to accessing them.”

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said there are critical labour force shortages in the wool industry, particularly related to sheep shearing.

“The Australian Government is interested in exploring with industry how the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme may assist.

“Preparations have commenced for an industry roundtable meeting in April,” the spokesperson said.

PLF growth team manager John Roach said a virtual roundtable was being organised for 12 April at which industry leaders from farmer and wool industry bodies — including Australian Wool Innovation and the SCCA — and shearing contractors will discuss Pacific scheme labour options.

“We are seeking their views on what the best model might be.”

He said a Queensland shearing contractor had applied to access Pacific island labour and he encouraged any potential wool industry employer or anyone interested in participating in the roundtable to contact him on [email protected]

“We just view it as an industry with a major (labour) issue, as many industries have, and we are just trying to find a solution.

“We may be one of their solutions.”


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  1. Rhonda Finley, March 31, 2022

    Bringing Pacific workers to Australia is a good idea, but do it so it’s fair to the workers, don’t use employment agencies in Australia. Cut out that middle man.

  2. Ian Burbury, March 28, 2022

    I am a wool classer and I have been looking for work for ages and can’t find any. Most people are doing it themselves. Forget over 20 years of experience; it means nothing.

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