Shearer numbers clipped
SA’s wool industry is facing a crisis: the shearing season is looming but there’s a shortage of sheep shearers.
A’s wool industry is facing a crisis: the shearing season is looming but there’s a shortage of sheep shearers.
The industry traditionally supplements its pool of shearers with workers from Lesotho, whom various companies have permits to employ.
Permits are held by companies such as Cape Mohair & Wool (CMW) and BKB, which provide shearing, classing and auctioneering services to the industry.
But CMW’s permit has expired and, says National Woolgrowers SA chairman Harry Prinsloo, it applied for a new permit in February last year, well before the shearing season, which begins this month.
It applied for 600 workers — 400 shearers and 200 classers (graders) — but permits were issued for just 20 shearers and two classers, says Prinsloo.
“The employment of foreigners is unfortunately seen as a way to exploit people and as a threat to unemployed SA citizens,” says Prinsloo. “But this is far from the truth. We make use of Lesotho workers to support the shortfall in local shearer numbers. For every shearer, four support staff — South Africans — are employed to harvest the clip at farm level.”
His organisation invests in training shearers but he says many fail to continue in this field.
Shearers, Prinsloo says, are paid R3,30 for every sheep sheared. The average shearer finishes about 100 sheep a day.
He says an appeal was lodged against the limited permit number but the labour department decreed that each farmer would have to apply for his own corporate permit within the district where the farm was located.
Says Prinsloo: “It was explained to the department that farmers use shearing, classing and auctioneering services. There are no permanent shearers on farms.”
The issue has reached parliament and come before the portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry & fisheries.
Committee chairman Lulu Johnson explained that the issue involved bringing together the agriculture, labour, economic development and home affairs departments, as well as trade unions. Home affairs did not attend the meeting, which Prinsloo said was “unfortunate”.
A steering committee was formed and the required permit approved, but was delayed after being sent to the home affairs department.
“I believe this was due to a lack of understanding of the issues on the part of home affairs since they were not present at the portfolio committee meeting or the steering committee meeting. Sheep and mohair shearing could not take place, with farmers losing revenue.”
Johnson promises that the situation will be sorted out “before the end of August”.
“We have no option, we have to resolve this. It is in the interests of job creation and growing the economy and, ultimately, meeting our objective of closing the gap between rich and poor in SA.
“We cannot allow a situation where industry is hampered.”
Johnson and Prinsloo agree that the SA industry urgently needs to look at processing wool locally rather than simply exporting raw material.
“It speaks to the country’s industrial plan, to promote job creation and also entrepreneurial activity, which is equally important,” says Johnson.
Prinsloo says China, India and the Czech Republic are huge wool importers for processing and these countries profit most from the industry.
“You start to make money when wool is no longer wool,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense to export 90% of our raw wool clip and then import clothing.”
Meanwhile, CMW’s GM: wool, James de Jager, says the shortage of shearers remains a “pressing problem”.
“The shearers we need will make up 45% of our labour force for the season from August to June next year. Not being allowed to employ them puts our business in jeopardy.
“We need that permit issued as soon as possible or it will become a major problem.”
Two South Africans, Zweliwile Hans and Mayenzeke Shweni, were placed first and second in this year’s blade shearing finals in the World Sheep Shearing Championships in New Zealand.
Attempts to have shearing included as a sport in the Olympics have not yet succeeded.