NZ travel bubble welcomed
A long-awaited travel bubble allowing agricultural workers to come into WA from over the ditch will give farmers more staffing options at spring shearing and harvest.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden last week announced quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia would start on April 19.
Both nations have contained COVID-19 outbreaks and kept infection rates near zero in recent months.
The move has opened the floodgates for NZ shearers and farm labourers — including tractor and header drivers — to enter WA for the first time in a year.
WA Shearing Industry Association president Darren Spencer welcomed the move but said the benefit would not be felt until shearing ramped up again in July.
He said calls for a circuit breaker to the shearing labour shortage crisis in the form of a travel bubble with New Zealand had fallen on deaf ears for more than six months. The focus instead had been on allowing vetted seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands into Australia.
“The main benefit is that it gives contractors more chance to be on time and not struggle with only two or three shearers in a fourstand shed,” Mr Spencer said.
“It gives us more staff to call on and share staff between contractors.”
WA’s shearing industry has been about 180 shearers and 180 shed hands short in the past year, with WA the only State that didn’t sign up to a one-way bubble allowing Kiwi shearers to enter Australia quarantine-free from last October.
Mr Spencer said WA’s summer and autumn shearing was nearly finished, meaning the real impact of the bubble would not be felt until at least July.
“A lot of shearing is winding down now and a lot of shearers are heading over east for a few months,” he said. “I have shearers calling me now to say they have a start in New South Wales when they are ready. If this carries on without any trouble into July to September, we will need the New Zealanders to come back in. We have really struggled the past 12 months with shearers, especially through spring and summer.”
An unexpected benefit of the labour shortage was that learner shearers were “getting a run on the boards”, Mr Spencer said.
“But I have seen at least four learners that have gone off to do something else because shearing is too constant for them. Their bodies aren’t ready for it,” he said.
“We are pulling learners out of shearing schools and straight onto the board and their bodies just break down.
“This will not retract from the fact that we have learners getting a chance, but it will be easier for contractors to fill in gaps.”
WAFarmers grains section president Mic Fels said the bubble was a “little bit late” for seeding, which started to gather pace from midApril. Existing workers were likely to put in longer hours and unskilled workers would be put in charge of expensive machinery.
“It is really good to see the State Government listening about this,” he said. “It might be a little late for seeding but come harvest it will be invaluable.”
Separately, Australian shearers were recently given an exemption to travel to the United Kingdom to help combat its shearer shortage.
Rules surrounding the exemptions and the travel arrangements are still not clear.
But Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud urged Aussie shearers to stay at home.