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Helping Aussies working overseas

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Australian expatriates who are living and working abroad were recently given some handy hints regarding their working and social lives.

Mr Alexander Malcolm, Area STEA Manager, West Africa Operations, from the GlobalSantaFe Corporation, delivered a paper entitled Become an Expatriate – Preparing for Overseas Assignments at the 2006 Sydney Safety Show, presented by Australian Exhibitions and Conferences.

Issues that confront an individual accepting a foreign assignment can have a serious impact on health, personal security and personal finances, according to Mr Malcolm. Cultural differences and living conditions may affect quality of life and relationships.  

The better prepared both parties are before committing to an agreement the less problems experienced.

Many foreign postings offer attractive compensation packages that together with lower taxation rates present a viable way of improving standards of living and increasing amounts of disposable income. 

While working overseas exposure to different working regimes, methodologies and philosophies challenge beliefs and perceptions based in the home country. A new base of knowledge is established enabling comparison and evaluation of problems to arrive at effective solutions.

Engagement and involvement in the host country culture is a delightful activity. Learning new customs and language is exciting and opening doors into learning about new concepts, ideas, religions and families is fascinating. Development of tolerance towards religions and political systems provide a platform for communicating to all people.  

A high level of job satisfaction can be especially achieved when working with people in poorer countries where there is insufficient government infrastructure to support education, health and social services. Commonly employees are extremely grateful for any training provided. They exhibit a thirst for knowledge that is refreshing and invigorating to the safety professional. Transfer of knowledge and systems enhance OHAS and raise the bar.

Being exposed to different cultures, legislative requirements, limited resources, extended leadership demands and needs driven safety management ensure that the expatriate value adds to his skills set. Auditing and communication abilities are honed. Future employers value these attributes and invariably the returning expatriate is short listed when being considered for appointment.  

Health is also an extremely crucial factor to consider, especially when travelling to countries with developing medical facilities. Malaria is still rampant in Africa and parts of Asia. Employers should have a Malaria Protocol which sets out expectations of the employee and employer in regards to prevention and emergency response. Employees posted to an area where malaria is prevalent should consult a doctor and take any prescribed preventative medication.  

Employers should have a plan for emergency treatment and medical evacuation. Medical costs in some countries are prohibitive and may not be available if an individual does not have insurance. 

Most companies have an airline travel policy which identifies any airlines considered unfit for travel due to safety reasons, scheduling problems, cancellations, luggage mishandling and over booking. 

Before departure, employees should consult their company and complete a risk assessment for the country travelled to. The risk assessment should include political stability, social violence, crime, transport accommodation and health.

While it is great to try local foods and dishes, employees should be a little fussy about the places they eat. In poorer countries some areas don’t have connected water so hygiene practices often suffer as a consequence. Western foods are more expensive as they are all imported.

Also, there is often a large disparity between the wages of an expatriate and a local employee. To be considerate pay and conditions should be kept confidential so as to avoid souring working relationships. Employees may have a lower standard of education than experienced in the west so patience and coaching is required.  

Expatriate life does not suit all relationships and success is dependant upon personal interests, availability of work for the partner, freedom of movement, support networks and age of children. Employees should not expect to be able to live the same in a foreign country as in their home country. 

Expatriate life can be very rewarding both professionally and personally if it suits one’s lifestyle. However, it can place an enormous strain on relationships. As a career move, it is definitely an advantage.

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