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Learning English - Words in the News
21 January, 2008 - Published 12:29 GMT
Australia sheep shearer shortage
a sheep

Australia's wool industry is facing a significant shortage of sheep shearers. Poor working conditions and the attractions of better paid jobs in the country's booming mining sector have led to an exodus of shearers. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports:

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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's offered better wages and less demanding working conditions.

Shearing is often a back-breaking job where thousands of kilograms 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. 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 aren't 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.

Listen to the words

sheep shearers
people whose job is to cut the wool off sheep


in droves
in large numbers

like never before


rapid increase

long-standing drought
long period of time when there has not been enough water for crops and farm animals

aren't enough to go round
the number of people available to do the work isn't enough to do all the work that is needed

the punishing work
the physically hard work

chronic back pain
pain in the back that lasts for a long period of time and doesn't stop when the work that causes the pain stops

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