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NZ's first sheep shearing collective in decades has just been signed

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The shearing shed: an iconic Kiwi job if there ever was one.

Problem is, a lack of upskilling through training and low wool prices over the last couple of decades mean it’s lost its appeal for many. But industry leaders have come together to make it a viable option once again.

FIRST Union has today signed the first collective in the sheep shearing and wool handling industry in 24 years with Manawatu Shearing Limited. The collective includes market-leading rates of pay and will enable workers within the company to engage more in the decision making around their employment and in the wider industry. Due to the seasonal nature of sheep shearing, the initial agreement will cover between 30-90 workers over the year.

The collective comes after concerns over wage discrepancies, inadequate timekeeping, a lack of employment agreements, the common incorrect taxation of staff as casuals, not paying proper holiday pay or for public holidays and many not paying the rates recommended by the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association.

FIRST Union Transport, Logistics and Manufacturing Divisional Secretary, Jared Abbott, says Manawatu Shearing is the first to do the right thing and he invites more to fall into line.

"Manawatu Shearing is a company that not only values its employees, but it also values the industry. The lack of a pragmatic Industry Training structure has let shearers down and now New Zealand shearers have been losing their placing on the world stage. This agreement and our commitment to more than triple the current amount of staff being trained annually is a hugely positive step for the company and beyond."

The Union sees the shearing industry as an integral part of the wool supply chain and already represents workers in production, manufacturing, and retail of textiles and clothing in New Zealand. Therefore there is an opportunity to use this industrial power to promote training, upskilling, more value added processing in New Zealand and to give an alternative voice for the industry in the public sphere.

As such, the Union has also committed to returning half of all income obtained from union fees back into upskilling members in their trade.

"As a union, we want to see as much value added processing returned to New Zealand communities as possible. With our existing relationships in the Textiles and Clothing industries, we see our involvement in Sheep Shearing as an opportunity to promote a strong a sustainable industry in New Zealand for years to come," he says.

Mr Abbott says the agreement allows for other companies to become a party to it - FIRST Union is hopeful that over time the entire industry will become party to the agreement. The Union will be presenting to other employers about its plans for the industry at the New Zealand Shearing Contractors’ Association Inc. Annual General Meeting taking place tomorrow (15 May 2019).

"This agreement has come about through cooperation and an understanding of mutual benefit for the workers, the company, and the industry. This is a textbook example of how unions and companies can work together for the good of the community."

Mr Abbott adds the agreement is about setting high ethical standards in an industry New Zealand is proud of.

"When farmers contract Manawatu Shearing or any other company who becomes party to the agreement to shear sheep they can know they are dealing with a company that fully complies with the law, that values its workers, and that its workers are receiving the best training there is to offer".

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