June 15, 2004
June 2004 -- So many sheep shearers in Australia have left the trade that the wool industry Down Under is referring to the shortage as a crisis situation. Less than 7,000 shearers remain today from a workforce that totaled more than 30,000 in the 1980s.
Low wages, poor working conditions and better-paying jobs are cited as reasons for the rapid decline.
"Work conditions are Neanderthal ? we're still in the dark ages," said shearer Ross Abbey, in a News Telegraph United Kingdom article. "Young blokes do the job for a week and then they can't go on because their back's knackered. I'm trying to get out."
The country's 45,000 wool producers are urging drastic action to ensure a sufficient supply of shearers for the country's 130 million sheep.
The United States is experiencing a shearer shortage as well. The American Sheep Industry Association's Wool Council began addressing the issue in 2003 by establishing a Shearing Task Force. The group's first goal: the compilation of a shearer/shearing crew database, which is underway. Also to be addressed in the near future: Shearer education and training, particularly in the areas of wool packaging, labeling and contamination.