12/11/2008 - 22:00

Demand for redundancy assistance on the rise

12/11/2008 - 22:00

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WESTERN Australian businesses may still have critical skills shortages to deal with, but in the current climate of uncertainty many employers are also looking for legal advice to potentially downsize their workforce.

Demand for redundancy assistance on the rise

WESTERN Australian businesses may still have critical skills shortages to deal with, but in the current climate of uncertainty many employers are also looking for legal advice to potentially downsize their workforce.

Last week, immigration specialist Interstaff International and law firm Deacons jointly held a seminar on overseas worker conditions and employment contracts, detailing the risks for employers looking to offload 457 visa workers in the current climate.

Interstaff International director David Jolly said the seminar was held in response to the unemployment forecasts that were published in previous weeks.

"We were not trying to ring alarm bells, it was just to remind companies that they have entered into undertakings as sponsors of 457 visa workers and of course in an unsettled labour market, any changes to the conditions under which they sponsor those workers need to be reported to the immigration department," Mr Jolly told WA Business News.

Deacons partner Maria Saraceni said she has been approached by a number of employers in recent times for legal advice on how to handle 457 visa workers and on workforce downsizing procedures.

"Even what to do if you've offered a 457 employee a job that is not here yet? If the employer doesn't want that person anymore that's another scheme that they need to deal with, where there has been a contract arrangement made but the person is not physically in the country," Ms Saraceni said.

She added that retrenching a 457 visa worker was often not the end of the story for the employer.

"There are potential discrimination issues that kick in for that redundancy. There are consequences that they need to think of carefully," she said

"Migration issues come in when a 457 worker is offloaded because the employer still has liabilities in relation to cost of the person, repatriate them to their place of residence or where they can find another job in a short period of time."

Chandler Macleod, an international human resources group, recently published figures showing the company experienced a four-fold increase in demand for its redundancy support services in the past six months.

The company said in the announcement that it expects another four-fold increase for these services between now and the end of February 2009 as the impact of the worldwide financial and economic crisis extends its grip.

Chandler Macleod executive general manager David Reynolds met with a number of human resources directors last week, with 80 per cent of them never having dealt with a redundancy before and were looking for help and direction.

The WA Business News migration forum heard that the current 457 visa requirements already represented major hurdles for employers in bringing in staff from overseas, including working hours, salary and increasing compliance.

Migration agencies and businesses still looking to bring staff from overseas are facing even more legislation and control.

Mr Jolly said with the Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Bill 2008 currently being examined in parliament, more changes are yet to be enforced in law for the 457 visa.

"If there is a contraction in the labour market, one can expect the government to require companies to justify more strongly that they need overseas workers, that's a natural result of any contraction in the labour market," he said.

Ms Saraceni said the changes already on record to the 457 visa scheme, and those under way, were justified, especially in light of the economic slowdown.

"I think potentially more people need to go out and ensure that the rights of foreign workers are not being trampled on," Ms Saraceni said

"When the economy is tight it is human nature for shortcuts to be taken, to reduce expenditure, if it is done the wrong way there must be a remedy taken for those foreign workers that perhaps don't have the same awareness of their rights.''

"I think it might impact on the type of people that are being brought out on visas , those who have very specialised skills will still be needed, it is those who have more general type skills may not be needed."

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