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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 07:17 GMT
Australian sheep-shearers decline
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

A sheep being sheared (file image)
Sheep-shearing can be tough, arduous work
Savaged by the worst drought in memory, Australia's wool industry is facing further problems through a significant shortage of sheep shearers.

Poor working conditions and the lure of better paid jobs in the country's booming mining sector have led to an exodus of shearers.

Sheep-shearing is one of the toughest jobs in Australia.

It involves long hours dragging sheep out of their pens and removing their tangled fleeces with electric clippers.

Australia's sheep shearers have been deserting the industry in droves.

The most recent figures show that between 2003 and 2006 almost a quarter walked away.

The shearing sheds have faced tough competition from Australia's mining sector, which has experienced unprecedented growth.

It has offered better wages and less demanding working conditions.

'Hard job'

Shearing is often a back-breaking job, where thousands of kilos of sheep meat are shifted every day.

Joe Sullivan from research company Australian Wool Innovation says workers continue to leave the industry.

"Let's be honest - one, it's a hard, physical job," he said.

"Shearers have a limited lifespan in the role but also because of competing industries and with the resources boom, we're having quite a significant demand for labour from the mining industry."

Australia's long-standing drought has reduced sheep numbers and although farmers need fewer shearers there still are not enough to go round.

Efforts are being made to attract new recruits and increase productivity. There are training courses around the country and researchers are looking at ways to make the job easier.

A good shearer can get through 200 sheep a day, but the punishing work often leads to chronic back pain and other injuries.

Australia braced for extreme weather
27 Dec 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia farmers feel drought strain
18 Jun 07 |  Asia-Pacific
The decline of the Aussie sheep shearer
28 Jul 04 |  Asia-Pacific

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