The Australian Workers’ Union says this week’s wool industry appeal for Pacific Island workers to be used to fill a supposed worker shortfall is just another attempt to undercut pay and conditions using cheap imported labour.
The wool industry claims to have identified a workforce shortage of 500 shearers and 500 shed hands and wants to use Pacific Islands workers in what it hopes will be the start of a steady pipeline of easily exploitable workers.
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.
“The Shearing Contractors Association and the same wool growers just don’t want to pay the current market rate, which is 15% 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 Pacific Australian Labour Mobility (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 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,” AWU National Secretary Dan Walton concluded.