Claims of a shortfall of 500 shearers and 500 shed hands across the wool sector has been slammed by the Australian Workers' Union (AWU).
The AWU claims this is just an attempt to undercut pay and conditions using cheap and easily exploited imported labour.
The Pacific Australian Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme allows Australian businesses to hire workers from nine Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste. It is a scheme the wool industry hopes to tap into to fill what they say is a chronic shortage of shearers and shed hands.
However, AWU National Secretary, Dan Walton, said the union was not convinced there was a genuine worker shortage.
"Despite the ongoing claims by the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia and some woolgrowers of a labour shortage, the fact is the Australian flock has been shorn year after year," Mr Walton said.
"It was successfully shorn right through the Covid pandemic, and it can be shorn now."
AWU claims the Shearing Contractors Association and the same wool growers just don't want to pay the current market rate, which is 15 per cent above award, simply because they have not been able to flood the market with cheap labour.
"They should stop looking overseas and instead work to attract Aussie workers by offering fair pay and conditions, and proper training."
Mr Walton said while the AWU had backed the PALM scheme's use as a safeguard against wage theft and worker exploitation in the horticulture industry, it had raised strong concerns to the Agriculture Department about its unsuitability for the wool industry. And he said that so far only one shearing contractor had applied to become an approved PALM scheme employer.
"The AWU will be closely looking at this approved employer/contractor to ensure that they are properly training these workers and ensuring that any approved employer/contractor meets their obligations regarding labour-market testing under the PALM scheme, and they haven't so far," Mr Walton said.
Some wool growers have stated hesitation in employing overseas workers due to lack of experience in the Australian industry.
"For the smaller sheds, it's difficult to get workers at times but we always manage and supporting growth in the Australian shearing industry begins with encouraging local workers," one grower said.
Australian Wool Innovation Chairman, Jock Laurie said staff shortages are not confined to the shearing industry and can be seen across agriculture and the broader community.
"Timing on each individual farm of shearing and crutching is critical for the management of sheep. Availability of staff to meet these timelines, as has happened historically, is extremely important," Mr Laurie said.
"AWI has been and will continue to provide training to people who are keen to enter the industry, whither they reside in Australia or come into this country on a government approved scheme."
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