Shortlist's most-read stories, in brief

The most-read stories on Shortlist over the past week have included: a Q&A on employment issues arising from the coronavirus situation; why Programmed's CEO says recruitment leaders shouldn't "hit the panic button" yet; Greg Savage's action plan for business; sponsored workers in limbo; and more.

The full articles summarised below are accessible with a subscription or free trial of Shortlist.

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With recruitment businesses taking steps to reduce their payroll costs without standing people down or sacking them, a lawyer provides a timely reminder on what employers legally can and can't do.

Some recruitment leaders are asking staff to switch to commission-only pay as an alternative to redundancy, for example.

But all employers need to check employees' awards and contracts before taking any action or they risk being in breach of these, says HR Law practice group leader Kristin Ramsey.

"Employers shouldn't be [taking unilateral action], employers should be saying things like, 'we have no work for you, your role is redundant. Rather than terminate you for redundancy, though, here's what we propose as a temporary measure, and then let's reassess'."

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Early analysis of jobs data shows the extent of the sudden drop in demand, with ads falling between a quarter and a third in one week – an "unprecedented" development, says HRO2 Research director Bob Olivier.

"People are comparing this economic crisis to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. I think that 9/11 is a better comparison. Overnight the job market collapsed. It took several years to recover. This is equally sudden, but the economic and financial consequences are more direct and more profound."

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Employers that urgently need to sponsor talent from overseas are now facing uncertain delays, while current visa holders are in limbo, migration specialists say.

Home Affairs will continue to process sponsored visa applications that were lodged onshore in Australia, while processing for applications made offshore will be halted, says Visa Solutions Australia managing director Dan Engles.

"If the person is coming from overseas into a job, that employer will probably have to re-assess whether the job is still justified."

On a positive note, the Department of Home Affairs is not refusing any visa applications because of the current travel ban.

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The real storm might still be "looming", but now is not the time for major changes that will make it more difficult to help the employment market rebound, says Programmed Skilled Workforce CEO Nic Fairbank.

"I'm not into pressing a panic button. Our role is to find a sustainable way through this."

For that to work, there may be some "refinement" in day-to-day operations, but Fairbank says Programmed is not making significant structural changes, because "when the market starts to rebound and we're through the worst of COVID-19... then all employers need to get back on deck, and fast".

With no precedent to fall back on, he says leaders across the industry are "feeling" their way through.

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All recruitment leaders have been caught off guard by the extent and speed of the current downturn, but they must make business decisions very quickly while it continues to evolve, and industry advisor Greg Savage has shared an "action plan" for doing so.

"In most economic downturns, you don't get this kind of rapid collapse," he tells Shortlist, noting the current situation is "as hard to manage as any I have ever seen".

Where decisions are being made about layoffs, Savage suggests a number of considerations will help add clarity: make cuts only once, where possible, and don't "over prune"; assess each employee's productivity in terms of revenue; and ask whether the business would be in a rush to hire them back once the market improves.

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Demand for frontline staff has spiked in the wake of coronavirus, and the business disruption has acutely highlighted gaps in workforce planning, a talent marketplace leader says.

"We've seen an incredible surge of demand… across a wide range of companies for customer service staff," says Weploy CEO Tony Wu. "It's all hands on deck and it's just massive."

Wu says hiring demand is particularly strong in areas where organisations have a heightened need to "respond to queries": health insurance, superannuation, financial services, and e-commerce, utilities, and telecommunication.

And the ability to flex staffing levels up and down in a timely manner is more important than ever, he adds.

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