Foreign worker shearing industry shortage a concern for Limestone Coast peak season

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: South East Shearing wool handler Michelle Droppers is among many employees who may be feeling the pressure of a shearing industry foreign worker shortage this upcoming spring season. Picture: MOLLY TAYLOR

By Molly Taylor

A NATIONAL shearer shortage caused by border shutdowns and travel restrictions is creating unprecedented pressure this spring season across the Limestone Coast’s agricultural sector.

Tough interstate and overseas travel bans have generated a huge shearing industry employment gap which regional contractors are struggling to fill.

Fast approaching considerably the busiest time of the year for shearers, South East Shearing co-owner Richard Rees said Australia’s reliance on New Zealand was making operations difficult.

Traditionally, Australia relies on approximately 500 New Zealand contractors to help shear between five to seven million sheep annually.

Mr Rees said he was currently employing approximately 70 people across South Australia and Victoria which was around 25pc below average than normal.

“The rest of this year is going to be a struggle,” Mr Rees said.

“With New Zealand unable to come in and with the borders still blocked it is just going to make it hard.

“Everyone is crying out for workers and farmers are starting to worry they are not going to get their sheep shorn.”

During a seasonal period, Mr Rees said it was usually possibly to move Victorian shearers to South Australia when necessary, which could also not happen during today’s current climate.

“The farmers have been good and they understand what is going on at the moment and everyone has to work together,” he said.

Mr Rees said he was among many who have had to turn down new work as he did not have the employees available.

“Basically every contractor around South Australia would be the same boat,” he said.

“The sheds are not being filled up. There might be a seven stander, but only three or four shearers might be available.

“Everyone is struggling.”

Remaining positive, Mr Rees said it had also provided opportunities which were not available previously.

“We have had some workers who have lost their jobs with previously shearing experience who have come back into the industry,” he said.

“We have also employed some young kids who are keen to enter the industry and are looking for work.

“Although it is not heaps of staff, we have and are training up a few more.”

Mr Rees said although it was not an easy job, the rewards were there if people were to put in the effort.

“If you want to put in the hard yards, you will be rewarded. You also get to see a lot of the country side and are not stuck at the same place,” he said.

Those interested in a career in shearing are encouraged to contact Richard Rees on 0429679640.

“We are always willing to put on new workers and those willing to give it a go,” he said.

“We need all the help we can get at the moment.”