Up to 60 overseas shearers to be granted border exemptions

Demand for shearers peaks in January and February.
Demand for shearers peaks in January and February. Photo credit: Getty

By Maja Burry of RNZ

Up to 60 overseas shearers will be allowed to enter the country between January and March to help fill a gap in the local workforce.

The New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association (NZSCA) told the Government in July that keeping shearers out because of COVID-19 travel restrictions could harm farmers' incomes and cause animal welfare issues for unshorn sheep wilting in the summer heat.

There were further talks last month, and on Friday Immigration New Zealand said border exemptions had been granted for up to 60 shearers to enter the country between January and March.

Conditions include that they have to have at least two years' experience and be contracted by an approved NZSCA employer.

The association's president, Mark Barrowcliffe, said it would now be working with overseas shearers to make sure the right paperwork had been completed, so that when spots in managed isolation became available after Christmas, they would be able to take advantage of them.

Barrowcliffe said while the industry waited for help from overseas to arrive, it was utilising the local workforce as best as it possibly could, including moving shearers between the North and the South Island.

"Every shearer we can get now is helping out, every fine day at the moment is helping out, so we're working at ticking off the boxes day by day ... and everyone is working to help mitigate a problem that's looming around the corner."

Federated Farmers meat and wool chair William Beetham said the decision was fantastic news for farmers and the shearing industry.

"We really appreciate how hard it has been for the government to manage this issue and keep New Zealand safe and we really appreciate the fact that they understand the importance of animal welfare and have provided these exemptions."

Beetham said demand for shearers peaked in January and February, so getting the workers through managed isolation and onto farms as fast as possible would be the priority.

"We now have an opportunity to work with the authorities and with the government to do our best to get the shearers on the ground and shearing as quickly as possible."

Beetham said COVID-19 had highlighted the local workforce shortage within New Zealand, and hoped this would lead to change.

"I also would like to think it's been a really big wake-up call for the industry how we need to focus on capability within New Zealand, so there's a real opportunity for us there going forward to be better at developing our own capability."