‘I’ve been asking for a long time’: WA shearing industry calls for visa arrangement with northern hemisphere

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
WA Shearing Industry Authority president Darren Spencer.
Camera IconWA Shearing Industry Authority president Darren Spencer. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

The State’s shearing industry has lent its voice to calls for the Federal Government’s new Agriculture Visa to be extended to the northern hemisphere to secure much-needed shearers for the coming year.

Across WA, contractors are running weeks behind due to crippling COVID-19 induced labour shortages, working overtime to get through the backlog.

WA Shearing Industry Association president Darren Spencer — who is running two teams instead of three himself — said the State was down 120 shearers and desperately needed northern hemisphere workers.

Teams are weeks behind on their summer-autumn runs, with no reprieve in sight.

“There’s a lot of guys that are short on staff,” Mr Spencer, who recently had to jump on a handpiece himself to fill in for one of his workers, said.

“A lot of people have staff that went over east and some just haven’t been able to come back.

“I think a lot of people really are tired and if you lose someone, you’re really going to struggle to replace them.”

Opening the new agriculture visa up to northern hemisphere countries would help alleviate the pressure, he said.

He has also been pursuing an alternative visa tailored to the shearing industry.

“I’ve asked the question about a reciprocal arrangement with UK, where our shearers could go there from May-July for three months on shearer’s visa,” Mr Spencer said.

“And shearers there could come here between August-October for three months ... even January-March.

“I’ve been asking that for a long time. That would relieve so much pressure on us.”

While many young shearers are joining teams and being given a stand they may not have got two years ago when experienced shearers were able to travel around the globe with their craft, Mr Spencer said it was tough work for many of them, who just did not have the speed of the experienced shearers.

“We’re still training learners, which just gives us that top up,” he said.

“But it’s too much for them, their bodies are just not ready for that vigour of work.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails