As large and small businesses around the country cut costs to survive during these challenging economic times, thousands of people in Australia may lose their jobs. And we’re better off than people in many other countries. If you hold onto your job through this tough patch, you may still have to cope with having your hours cut back and therefore getting less pay.
What steps should you take if you’re worried about the security of your job or cut-backs? What can you do to make sure you can still cope financially through these difficult times?
Some employers may make temporary changes when they experience a downturn in business, such as reducing your hours or cutting back to a four-day week, as a way to avoid redundancies and retrenchments. If there’s talk of this happening at your workplace, it’s important to keep on top of things so you can take action if you need to.
Know your rights
Most employers care about their staff and do their very best to avoid redundancies and retrenchments. So if you’re worried about job security, talk to your boss or contact your Human Resources manager. They are well-placed to advise you about any changes that may need to be made because of altered circumstances.
Your employer will have to follow certain rules if they want to make changes to your job, make positions redundant or retrench employees. The Commonwealth Government’s Fair Work Ombudsman website at www.fairwork.gov.au includes useful information about:
• your entitlements
• how to deal with issues that arise in the workplace.
Call the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94. You can also email or chat to them online (9.00am to 6.00pm, Monday to Friday) – see www.fairwork.gov.au/contact-us.
The Fair Work Ombudsman website also provides details of the National Employment Standards (NES) which came into effect on 1 January 2010, including hours of work, leave entitlements, and termination and redundancy rules. The rules that apply in your situation will depend on whether you are covered by an award, workplace agreement or individual contract.
If you think you’re being treated unfairly, you can contact the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman for more information about your rights or to lodge a complaint. You can also lodge a claim if you believe you haven’t received correct wages and conditions and you’re employed by a company or under a federal award.
If you belong to a union, it can also provide advice and representation. Unions Australia has a helpline on their website at www.unionsaustralia.com.au/helpline.aspx where you can post your questions online. Or call 1300 486 466.
Work out your exact financial situation
Be realistic about how reduced hours or temporary unemployment would affect your finances. Start by looking at how much cash you currently have in the bank and then list every expense you’ll have to meet for the next few months.
Then calculate how much money you will earn over the same period of time if your hours of work are reduced. Does your new income cover all your expenses or will there be a shortfall? You’ll also need to do this exercise if you’re retrenched or made redundant and may have a period of weeks or months with little income.
STEP 2: Prepare for uncertainty
If you’re worried about your job, you’ll have to cope with uncertainty in all directions. If circumstances change, most people won’t know how long the reduced hours or the unemployment will last. The best protection is to start taking action now, and not wait until you’re forced into a corner.
Look after your health
The prospect of surviving on less money and worrying about whether you might lose your job can be stressful. Make sure you look after your physical and emotional health as well as your finances.
Adjust your spending
Start building up a financial buffer in case you do lose your job or your income is cut back. Stop buying things on credit and pay off your credit card every month. Build up an emergency cash reserve in a savings account. Like Dianne, consider scaling back your voluntary superannuation contributions to build up your cash reserves.
Bite the bullet and change your spending habits as quickly as possible.
Contact Centrelink at www.centrelink.gov.au or call 13 28 50 (Employment Services) to find out what government assistance you may be entitled to. This may be the first time you’ve had to deal with Centrelink. Staff are trained to treat customers with compassion so make contact as soon as possible to discuss your individual circumstances.
Centrelink has a Financial Information Service (FIS) and social workers available at no cost, whether you’re eligible for benefits or not. Go to www.centrelink.gov.au/fis or call 13 23 00 and ask to speak to a FIS Officer, who will answer your questions over the telephone or may suggest making an appointment to meet face-to-face. FIS also runs free seminars on retrenchment and financial issues – call 13 63 57 for seminar information and bookings.
Existing payments you already receive, like Family Tax Benefit, might increase if your income is suddenly lower. The Family Assistance Office can give you information about, and help you to change your income estimates for, Family Tax Benefit Parts A and B as well as providing information about payments you may be eligible for. Visit their website at www.familyassist.gov.au or call 13 61 50.
Another potential source of income is temporary or casual work to provide a stop-gap until your usual job picks up again or you find a new one. Put your name down with temping agencies, ask around amongst family and friends, and ask local businesses if they have vacancies.
STEP 3: Plan for the future
When business picks up again, you may get your old hours back (if you’ve been asked to cut back). But other changes may be permanent. That means you may have to look for different ways to increase your income and new ways to organise your finances.
Reinvent your career
Just because unemployment is higher than it has been for some time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for a new job or pick up new skills. Do some research to find out how you can gain skills that will increase your chances of finding a better job (see the Fair Work Ombudsman website at www.fairwork.gov.au for help with this). Look at opportunities such as training and study, work experience, volunteering and community work.
Think outside the square. For example, visit the Commonwealth Government's Australian Apprenticeships website at www.australianapprenticeships.gov.au or call 13 38 73. Apprenticeships are open to anyone of working age and don’t require entry qualifications. You don’t have to be a school leaver. Opportunities are available if you are re-entering the workforce or want to change careers.
There are many other vocational education and training opportunities to help you upgrade your skills or retrain for a new job. See the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) website at www.deewr.gov.au or call 1300 363 079 to find out more.Page 4 of 5 or call 1300 363 551 for free how-to guides and seminars (held nationally), and details about grants and assistance. (BEC is sponsored by the Commonwealth Government's business portal, ).
• To find out more about your rights, conditions and entitlements in the workplace: go to the Fair Work Ombudsman at www.fairwork.gov.au or call 13 13 94.
• If you are a union member and want advice or representation: go to Unions Australia at www.unionsaustralia.com.au or call 1300 486 466.
• To find out what government assistance you may be entitled to: go to Centrelink at www.centrelink.gov.au or call 13 28 50.
• To book in for free financial seminars and to discuss your eligibility for benefits: go to www.centrelink.gov.au/fis or call Centrelink's Financial Information Service (FIS) on 13 23 00 (benefits, speak to a FIS officer) or 13 63 57 (seminar bookings).
• To discover more about family tax benefits: go to the Family Assistance Office at www.familyassist.gov.au or call 13 61 50.
• To find out how to upgrade your skills or retrain for a new job: go to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) website at www.deewr.gov.au or call 1300 363 079.
• If you are interested in starting up your own business: go to Business Enterprise Centres (BEC) Australia at www.becaustralia.org.au or call 1300 363 551.
• If you have lost your job: go to Australian JobSearch at www.jobsearch.gov.au or call 13 62 68.
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