Sydney woman Renee Barltov has owned her barber business for five years, but a looming government decision means the livelihood she loves is now seriously under threat.
Mrs Barltov opened The Barberhood in Sydney’s CBD in 2015 and went on to open a second branch in the city in 2017.
She planned to launch a third this year but has since abandoned that goal after the government revealed hairdressers had been flagged for removal from its Skilled Migration Occupation Lists at the end of the month.
If the decision goes ahead, it would mean 448 sponsored workers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne who are currently in Australia would have to return to their home country once their visa expires.
Mrs Barltov said the hairdressing industry had long been plagued by a skills shortage, and if the decision proceeded, it would be disastrous for hundreds of businesses on Australia’s east coast.
She said she employed up to 20 workers at any given time, and that around half were from overseas – predominantly Europe – as a direct result of that dire shortage.
“If this decision goes ahead, hairdressing businesses will close and haircut prices will surge if these small businesses are put under any more economic pressure,” she said.
“I’m personally going to lose 50 per cent of my workforce which would mean I can’t staff one of my stores, nor open the third store that I had planned.
“I am just one of hundreds of Australian hairdressing businesses that will not be able to survive or grow.”
Mrs Barltov said it cost her $10,000 to sponsor each overseas worker, which she was forced to do due to a shortage of local, skilled applicants.
“There’s no benefit to us to take an overseas worker over an Australian one – there’s just not enough workers to fill the gap, because there’s a real shortage and the Government is not recognising that,” she said.
“I’ve been working for a long time and this is the first time I’ve felt vulnerable and threatened, and I also feel responsible for my team – some of these people have been with me for five years, they have lives here and the thought of telling them they have to go home is gut-wrenching.
“This is my livelihood – I’ve got two small children and I don’t know what’s going to happen, especially with these tough economic times ahead of us.
“And I’m in a much better position than many other smaller businesses so I can only imagine how they feel. People have mortgages, car payments – these are people’s lives.”
She said job losses and business closures had a flow-on effect on the broader economy which had already taken a battering recently.
Sandy Chong, CEO of industry body the Australian Hairdressing Council (AHC), told news.com.au the government decision would damage “hundreds of small businesses already feeling the hurt” from the tanking economy following the drought, floods, bushfires and now coronavirus.
“Many businesses are relying on these workers, so to lose half their workforce would be catastrophic,” she said.
“Every business would prefer to employ Australian first – that’s always a priority – but the problem is they just can’t get them to respond to an ad.
“They simply cannot get skilled staff. There is a massive gap in skilled people coming through.”
A Change.org petition launched by the AHC to keep hairdressing on the Skilled Migration lists and protect the industry already has more than 4500 signatures, and Ms Chong encouraged Aussies to sign.
News.com.au contacted the Department of Home Affairs for comment.