Bidding war breaks out for shearers

IN DEMAND: Shearers are in hot demand across Australia, as a bidding war has broken out - some offering well above award rates. At the same time, the AWU says it wants a lift in award rates.

IN DEMAND: Shearers are in hot demand across Australia, as a bidding war has broken out - some offering well above award rates. At the same time, the AWU says it wants a lift in award rates.

A bidding price war has broken out across Australia among those trying to secure shearers.

Some contractors are offering up to three times award rates for shearing with juicy sign-on bonuses as well because of the shearer shortage.

Pandemic border restrictions and particularly the ban on New Zealand shearers sparked the price war.

It comes at a time when the Australian Workers Union has lodged what some have called "an opportunistic" claim to lift award shearing rates by almost a third, from $3.26 to $4.26 a head.

Many contractors are already paying above award rates which their industry association blames on "queue jumping" farmers.

It is clear above award rates of up to $10 a head are being paid but the amounts vary widely from region to region and state to state.

One central NSW contractor is paying a sign-on bonus of $500 cash as well as a $4 a head fee for new recruits.

Shearing Contractors' Association of Australia secretary Jason Letchford said the above award offers could also include other costs as well.

"This really started months ago when some farmers started queue jumping and paying above award rates," Mr Letchford said.

Commenting on the AWU claim, which Mr Letchford said most would see as opportunistic given today's shearer shortage. He said thousands of producers would be upset by it.

"Today we are talking about above award pay because there is a shortage but in the future, it might be a question of viability."

The AWU said an increase from $3.26 a head to $4.26 would boost wages by several hundred dollars a week and also help shearing contractors across NSW who are struggling to find workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NSW Farmers wool committee chair Helen Carrigan also believed the AWU was being opportunistic.

"Look, we are happy to talk about this, like we are happy to talk to any growers having trouble finding shearers at the moment," Ms Carrigan said.

"I don't think it is a constructive process to simply put out a press release and say we want more money."