Shearing shortfall 350 staff

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WASIA president Darren Spencer and his wife Tania Spencer, of Lake Grace.
Camera IconWASIA president Darren Spencer and his wife Tania Spencer, of Lake Grace. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman, Bob Garnant Picture: Bob Garnant

WA faces a potential shortage of up to 350 wool shed staff, including 180 shearers, as COVID-19 travel restrictions plague the approaching busy spring shearing season.

This was the finding of a survey conducted by WA Shearing Industry Association in May that included feedback from 48 shearing contractors.

Staff shortages as a result of the pandemic was a major discussion topic at WASIA’s annual meeting on Saturday in Perth, with 45 contractors and industry representatives attending.

The meeting, which was in danger of being cancelled, was only called to order three days before the event and after WA’s COVID-19 restrictions had been eased.

The day’s focus was on issues for the upcoming shearing season post COVID-19, including staffing and training as well as a sneak peek of the Shearing Shed Safety Program.

WASIA administration officer Valerie Pretzel said some of the contractors were concerned about the looming staffing shortage.

Mrs Pretzel said it was pre-emptive to think shed learners could take up the shortfall as it takes years of experience to fulfill the workload of what was typically required to get WA’s total clip shorn.

“Contractors who have sent applications to the WA Police Commissioner to allow overseas workers to enter WA have not been successful,” she said.

“The industry must also take the view that if an application was successful, there would be some risk to the overseas shed worker, not to mention the complications of that worker required to self isolate.”

Mrs Pretzel said airline flight schedules were also a logistical problem with many flights being cancelled on a whim, which could possibly get an overseas worker stuck somewhere they didn’t want to be. She said overseas flights to Brisbane were the only real option to avoid extra risk.

“WASIA will launch a online platform this week to kickstart some much-needed communication between contractors,” Mrs Pretzel said.

“The association is backing a share-the-staff program in which contractors agree to work in unison through this difficult time.”

Mrs Pretzel said it was expected that the platform would enable shearing teams to be allocated where they were most needed and on short notice.

WASIA president Darren Spencer said he was proud of how the industry had pulled through the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought a range of protocols to the wool shed.

Mr Spencer said plans were in place to launch WASIA’s Shearing Shed Safety Program this year.

He said the Australian Wool Innovation and CGU Insurance- sponsored program was about best practice and safety issues.

Mr Spencer said WASIA was in a good financial position and it had gained 13 new members in 2019-20.

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