Woolshed COVID-19 outbreak risk a worry for shearers

Woolshed COVID-19 outbreak risk a worry for shearers

Coronavirus
The Australian Workers' Union has warned that many woolgrowers aren't following COVID-safe procedures in their shearing sheds.

The Australian Workers' Union has warned that many woolgrowers aren't following COVID-safe procedures in their shearing sheds.

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Union representatives and members of the wool industry are divided on whether enough is being done in shearing sheds to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Union officials have claimed shearers are being put at risk by a lack of COVID-safe measures in woolsheds but industry members have refuted suggestions of lax protocols.

The Australian Workers' Union say its members have reported many woolgrowers failing to take enough care to comply with required procedures, particularly in NSW.

AWU NSW vice president and shearing organiser Ron Cowdrey said it's just a matter of time before there is a COVID case in a shed.

"What we're hearing from our membership is there's no sign ins, no QR codes, there's a lack of hand sanitiser or good washing facilities," Mr Cowdrey said.

"There's concerns about camp outs, people two upping in caravan parks and hotels but with the properties themselves, the lack of the QR codes, sanitiser and distancing in the stands is the concern for our members.

"It needs to be remembered that they are a workplace so they are part of the protocols that the government has handed out.

"Safe Work NSW, I would suggest, needs to have a look at what's going on in some areas to make sure that they are [following the rules].

"This is not trying to have a crack at anyone, this is trying keep our rural and regional communities where our shearers and shedhands work as safe as can be from this outbreak."

But Jason Letchford from the Shearing Contractors Association Australia said they had encouraged shearing contractors to take responsibility for check in protocols in shearing sheds.

"Safety is definitely the priority over productivity," he said.

"With this more recent outbreak safety is front of mind, the challenge is that this variant of the COVID virus is going to be very difficult to look after staff with anything less than vaccination.

"We're encouraging all of our workers to get in the queue, get a booking for a vaccination as soon as possible and we've appealed to our employers to assist them with this process."

Mr Letchford said shearing contractors across the state and country are well aware of the need for QR codes in workplaces.

"All of our members are implementing that process or practice because they are concerned about the health and safety of their employees and if one of them has a close contact then everyone needs to know that as soon as possible and without those QR codes in place, you are just putting your workers in jeopardy," he said.

"The responsibility is really sitting with us and not with the farmer in the case of shearing operations, where they have a shearing contractor engaged.

"I can't comment on those farmers who are doing the shearing themselves."

Woolproducers Australia CEO Jo Hall said it was disappointing that AWU hadn't spoken directly to industry about the issue.

"The reality is the industry has been working together in a very proactive manner to ensure COVID-safe workplaces for relevant industries within the sheep and wool supply chain," she said.

"Last year back in March we developed some protocols for COVID-safe shearing, which we have now updated to include guidance around vaccination and masks.

"Clearly there are risks involved given the transient nature of the shearing industry and movement of people among regions, however there are risks in all industry and the reality is the industry stakeholders came together very early on to provide that guidance to industry to mitigate those risks as much as possible.

Ms Hall said Woolproducers strongly encourages and expects all workplaces to follow COVID-safe protocols.

"Anecdotally it's been proven to be sucessful because we haven't had an outbreak yet in a shearing team," she said.

"If people are doing the right thing, which we strongly encourage both producers and harvest teams to do, that chance is reduced as much as possible."

National Farmers Federation general manager for workplace relations and legal affairs Ben Rogers said the organisation encouraged growers to adopt safe work practices and facilitate workers getting vaccinated.

"Generally we think there's a partnership between employers and employees and we encourage employers to discharge their responsibilities through that partnership," he said.

"We're happy to work with shearers, unions and so forth to make sure we get the best health and safety outcomes for the sector and the nation."

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