Hundreds of hairdressers and barbers face serious staff shortages with the Federal Government seeking to within weeks remove the profession from the Skills Migration List.
The industry says the changes, planned for March 31, will leave small businesses reeling, with 448 workers in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane forced to return home once their existing visas expire.
The Australian Hairdressing Council (AHC) has been lobbying to keep hairdressing and barbering on the Skills Migration List, as the industry is struggling to recruit Australian skilled and qualified stylists and barbers.
Hairdressers say the moves will stifle growth, and put even more strain on the small business sector, already under serious pressure as a result of the slowing economy amid the Corona Virus threat.
Renée Baltov owns two barber shops in Sydney’s CBD, The Barberhood, and has been in business for five years. If this decision goes ahead, she will lose nine barbers, which equates to 50% of her workforce.
“If hairdressers and barbers are removed from the Skills Migration List, I will not be able to survive as a small family business and my livelihood will be destroyed,” she says. “I was about to sign a lease on a third store; however I have put it on hold pending this decision as I fear I will not be able to staff it. A third store would have created more jobs for Australians, stimulated industry spending, increased tax revenue and also enabled me to employ more Australian apprentices, which I will likely not be able to do.”
The proposed changes will affect businesses that have sponsored workers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. 448 of these workers will need to return to their home country once their Visa expires, leaving hundreds of businesses without their staff.
The Government’s response is that businesses in these cities can apply for sponsorship and employ these skilled staff via a labour agreement, however the unrealistic timeframe involved means that salons will still lose valuable staff members who need to leave the country, resulting in more costs to vulnerable small businesses.
Joseph Semaan, Director of Joey Scandizzo Salons and Kings Domain Barber Shops in Melbourne, believes the pending removal of hairdressing and barbering from the Skills Migration List will be potentially devastating for the hairdressing industry on the east coast of Australia, including his salon group of 10 businesses.
“We currently have eight staff sponsored on visas to work within our businesses,” he says. “Most hold key positions within our company structure, which is pivotal to the ongoing growth of our businesses and the training of our staff. We currently employ more than 40 Australian apprentices and we also invest heavily in our own training academy. These international staff play a pivotal role in educating our next batches of young talent coming through.
“We cannot grow our businesses, nor can we offer the same level of training on a consistent basis, if these international staff are forced to return to their country of origin once their current visa terms expire. We will be unable to fill the Educator positions in our academy with local staff, plus our ability to train and also to employ Australian apprentices will be severely impacted and compromised.”
The Australian Hairdressing Council says employing qualified overseas hairdressers and barbers, despite being much more costly for a small business, is often the only option salon owners have to sustain and grow their businesses.
“We want to protect small businesses who need to sponsor skilled overseas workers to fill our skills gap,” says Australian Hairdressing Council CEO Sandy Chong. “Naturally salon owners would prefer to employ Australian stylists to fill their positions, but we know that so many of them have spent months and countless dollars on recruitment trying to do so, mostly unsuccessfully. Employing talent from overseas allows our businesses to grow, trains our apprentices and contributes to the sustainability of our industry.”
On Monday night the AHC launched this change.org online petition asking the industry to show its support of keeping hairdressing on the Skills Migration List. In less than 48 hours it received 2500
“The AHC has actively been lobbying via face to face meetings with the Ministers at Parliament House,” tells Chong. “We have presented three submissions with recommendations, delivered 26 case studies, a survey with 219 responses, met with the Departments and sent numerous emails.
“The reality is that our industry lacks skilled hairdressers and barbers. Australian business owners are losing their livelihoods because the Government thinks there are already ‘too many hairdressers’. If this decision proceeds, many small businesses will be forced to close. That’s the reality of how their decision is affecting us, but it seems no one is listening.”