Trying to learn a little more about the wide/narrow comb shearing dispute of 1983, I came across this passage in a speech by AWU leader Bill Shorten – speaking to the Rural Press Club.
Today, life for Shearers is tougher than its needs to be. This was the conclusion of a recent Auspoll survey, commissioned by the AWU, talking and listening to almost 200 Shearers and shed-hands from South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales in detailed interviews on a wide range of issues.
The AWU is concerned about the disparity that has been allowed to grow over the last decade between rural and city living standards, a point I will return to. So we undertook the survey to measure the anecdotal evidence that we were hearing from AWU activists in the sheds about the hardship faced by Shearers. The Pastoral Award asserts that a casual piecework Shearer with their own equipment who is capable of shearing 500 sheep in a week can make $890 gross a week. But our survey reveals a much grimmer annual reality for the Shearer.
The survey showed most full-time Shearers average nine months work a year and they work on an average of 24 properties with 16 different employers. Sixty per cent of Shearers said they were paid over the award ($178 per 100 sheep), indicating that the current rate is too low and the market rate demands Shearers be paid above it.
Yes, but what would happen to the 40 percent who are not currently paid above it?