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Beyond the Bale : Oct 07 - Nov 07
By Kellie Penfold Shearing contractor Mike Henderson started shearing to put himself through university, saw the world via shearing sheds, and is now encouraging others to enter a career that he says can be rich and rewarding. Originally from New Zealand, Mike is based at Dongara, 350 kilometres north of Perth, where he and his wife Rachel run Henderson Shearing Services. A measure of the business is that it not only manages to attract staff in an area dominated by mining and oil exploration, but it has a waiting list of employees. "A lot of people think there's an easier life than shearing, but mining is not for everyone and they often come back," Mike says. "I also left the industry for a while, but I realised shearing wasn't that bad after all." It was when a former employer ran into financial difficulty that the Hendersons decided to take over the business and build it up, to a point where today, at peak times, it has more than 40 employees. Rachel and Mike, who is also an accredited industry trainer and participates regularly in AWI-funded training to keep up his accreditation, took the approach that if they wanted to retain good employees they needed to operate like other successful businesses and look after the whole team: that is, good conditions, good pay and consistent work. "The first thing is, like every other employee, the handlers, classers and shearers like to be paid regularly -- not at the end of the run at that shed, which could go on for weeks," Mike says. "Everyone is paid on the same day every fortnight, regardless of where that shed is up to. If they are strapped they can be paid weekly. "Secondly, because we fit into the global shearing calendar nicely, shearers and wool handlers from overseas fill the gap in our busy time, making accommodation important. We set up accommodation for 20 people at Badgingarra about 150km from our home base and employ a chef to look after them. "Transport has always been a big issue. If you don't have your own transport it's hard to get to sheds, or you might not like driving long distances in your own vehicle day after day. We invested in five vans, which are on the road every day during the busy season. "Each evening, every staff member gets a text message alerting them to the pick-up point for the next morning." The vans also play an important role in meeting occupational health and safety (OH&S) requirements. At each shed the van is the designated muster point in an emergency and all are equipped with fire extinguishers, first aid kits and details such as emergency telephone numbers and the location of the nearest hospital. Before a team leaves for a new shed Mike places a map of its location in the van. He is working with a computer programmer to develop a system allowing each shed to be mapped-out in advance, so the teams know the correct placement of bins, presses and exits before they arrive at a new shed. Mike says that how good wool handlers are rewarded and retained is an issue for the industry: "A lot of our wool handlers are young mums so we try to support them as much as possible by working in with child-care arrangements. However, the current award does not have provision for 'graded' rates of pay. And of all the positions in wool harvesting, good wool handlers are the most difficult to source." Training is another priority issue and the Hendersons encourage as many staff as possible to gain qualifications and attend training events. Three wool handlers have just gained their wool-classing certificate. One of his wool classers, Debbie Chandler, is now regularly engaged around Australia to conduct AWI-funded training. Duty of care defines true team shearing Regular pay, transport, training and fostering team effort are all key ingredients of Mike Henderson's successful enterprise Annual wool residue sur veys, conducted with funding from AWI, are helping prepare Australia for the imminent introduction of new European Union (EU) environmental regulations for wool processed in Europe. Reflecting growing scrutiny of chemical use in agricultural products, the European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) directive requires wool dye- houses and scouring plants to demonstrate that they have not contaminated the environment. Processing plants must report all their inputs and emissions to public-domain textile databases, which will require knowledge of the pesticide residues on greasy and scoured wool throughout the supply chain. AWI has been funding the annual survey to monitor pesticide residue levels in wool and provide a snapshot of Australia's clip since the mid-1990s. CSIRO administers the survey and analyses 600 fleece samples taken at random by the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA) from all wool-growing states and territories across the seasons. Dr Ian Russell, CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology environmental analysis manager, says the annual survey shows Australian wool is the cleanest in the world, revealing that 14 per cent of the clip has no reportable residues and 42 per cent meets EU Eco-label residue requirements. He says that over the past decade, residues of organophosphates and synthetic pyrethroids have reduced substantially, but have been replaced by residues from insect growth regulators, mainly due to off-shears backline treatments. Dr Russell says the survey is an important tool to understand what is going on with chemical use on our clip: "It gives us very clear guidelines on what growers can do to meet the European Eco-label and other eco-wool requirements." The EU Eco-label allows consumers to identify textiles manufactured using sound environmental practices; starting Residue test gears clip for eco-standards Australian wool is the cleanest in the world -- 42 per cent of the clip already meets the new EU environmental regulations that will come into force in October 12 WOOL HARVESTING BEYOND THE BALE PHOTOS: EVAN COLLIS Mike Henderson, shearing contractor from Dongara,WA.
Aug 07 - Sep 07 Supplement
Dec - Jan 08