Woolshed workforce mulled

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantCountryman
Australian Wool Innovation shearer trainers Paul Hick and Dwayne Black, front, with Rylington Park chairman Matthew Chambers, WASIA president Darren Spencer and AWI corporate affairs manager Stephen Feighan.
Camera IconAustralian Wool Innovation shearer trainers Paul Hick and Dwayne Black, front, with Rylington Park chairman Matthew Chambers, WASIA president Darren Spencer and AWI corporate affairs manager Stephen Feighan. Credit: Countryman, Bob Garnant

The need to ensure a future woolshed workforce was a hot topic at the WA Shearing Industry Association meeting in Perth on Saturday.

More than 50 contractors and industry representatives from across the State gathered at the event, with many taking part in robust conversations led by the guest speakers.

Attendees raised concerns about shearing shed staff numbers when WASIA president Darren Spencer opened conversation to the floor.

Shearers Hall of Fame inductee Kevin Gellatly, of Forrestfield, said Australian Wool Innovation was throwing funding at several platforms of shed training.

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However, he said there was a current lack of skilled shearers capable of shearing 120+ sheep/day.

“We need to attract new industry entrants that are willing to sweep the floors or press the bales until they are skilled enough to take up a stand,” Mr Gellatly said.

AWI shearer trainer Dwayne Black said it was important for experienced shearers to enrol in refresher training.

South Regional TAFE wool classing lecturer Rob Carter said shed staff needed to keep abreast of animal welfare issues.

“Its not all doom and gloom, I’ve not seen any sheep with 14-months of wool on them, so we are getting the job done,” he said.

Mr Spencer also revealed WASIA was pushing for the Federal Government to allow United Kingdom shearers to work in Australia.

He also said the organisation would extend its online shearing shed safety survey, which was launched in December, until the end of the month.

About 40 wool producers and 80 shearing shed workers have filled in the online survey so far, with submissions detailing alcohol and drug use and poor working conditions.

Survey results will be used to help develop a national shed safety assessment program.

On-farm investment was also a hot topic at the meeting.

Mr Spencer said high wool prices had seen growers reinvest in the industry with a keen focus on new sheep yards.

However, he said there was “still a way to go” with some older sheds needing “a good fix up” for safety and comfort reasons.

Australian Wool Exchange chief executive Mark Grave voiced his concern about overweight wool bales costing the industry, both financially and in lost time.

“Nationally, there has been 35,500 bales overweight at a cost of $250,000 to industry, while WA’s toll stands at 12,500 bales, over the 204kg standard bag limit,” he said.

Mr Grave said AWEX was planned to issue wool classer ID cards to avoid any fraud within the industry.

“This is an issue of maintaining integrity within the industry to install confidence in wool buyers,” he said.

Bailiwick Legal director Phil Brunner gave an employment update, kicking off with a refresher on the two industrial systems operating in WA - the Fair Work Act and the Pastoral Award. Other WA employers fall under the Shearing Contractors Award.

Mr Brunner also touched on travel allowances, the importance of contractors in understanding the flexibility of award provisions towards shed staff pay, by the hour or by the run, in regards to specific employee requests.

“With the new casual conversation regime now included in the Pastoral Award, there was widespread concern at the meeting about the impact that this may have on the casual nature of employment in the industry,” he said.

Mr Brunner told contractors to ensure they implemented and audited their drug and alcohol policies.

“The changes to the WA health and safety laws, proposed this year, will likely see greater emphasis on these issues,” he said.

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