Justin Letchford, Secretary of Shearing Contractors of Australia (SCAA) has plenty to say about the Australian Worker's Union's (AWU) claim that there is no need to employ overseas workers if shearing sheds are going to continue to run efficiently.
Mr Letchford said SCAA wants to establish genuine pathways for overseas workers with a goal for them to become a valuable part of the Australian wool harvesting industry.
"What the AWU's view fails to recognise is that shearing needs to be completed in a timely manner both from a farm management and animal welfare point of view," Mr Letchford said. "Wool testing data has shown autumn is the optimum time for shearing and it follows that livestock owners will want to take advantage of this optimal timing and so labour in shearing sheds will be in short supply."
Mr Letchford acknowledges that it costs more time and effort to employ overseas workers instead of a local workforce that is familiar with the industry, but it's "not that simple."
Potential employees will come through the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme which allows eligible Australian businesses to hire workers from nine Pacific islands and Timor-Leste when there are not enough local workers available.
Through the PALM scheme, eligible businesses can recruit workers for seasonal jobs for up to nine months or for longer-term roles for between one and four years in unskilled, low-skilled and semi-skilled positions.
Recent policy changes have allowed workers to upscale from shed hand roles, considered as unskilled to shearing roles, which are considered as semi-skilled.
"This is a great step forward for all concerned," Mr Letchford said. "It means both employees and employers can benefit from the career pathway. The fact that we can upskill workers is fantastic."
Mr Letchford also refutes the idea that overseas workers are easily exploited if utilising this scheme.
"Workers are indentured to a shearing contractor for the term of their employment. Prospective employers have to meet strict conditions of suitability and also provide three years of financials before being accepted. Employees will have two days of briefing in their home country and a guaranteed level of pay once they come to Australia. It's a win win for all concerned."
Mr Letchford said the concept has been well received by shearing contractors with a waiting list now in place to receive overseas workers.