Michael Owen | June 04, 2009
Article from: The Australian
ONCE an international high-flyer, Carolyn Van Hecke is part of an emerging new aspect of the global financial crisis.
Mrs Van Hecke, 40, her husband Wayne, 35, and two children Thomas, 10, and Emily, 9, came to Australia from Britain after being lured by a two-year contract with accounting firm KPMG and the promise of a bright future.
But after four months, without warning, she was marched from the Adelaide office by the company's security guards after her position was made redundant as a result of the economic slowdown.
She was advised that under the terms of her business-sponsored visa, she and her family had 28 days to leave the country. Mrs Van Hecke, like thousands of accountants and auditors brought to Australia from financial centres in London, New York and Singapore under the Skilled Migrant Program, has been hit hard by the financial crisis and a subsequent sharp fall in demand for her skills.
After being hired by KPMG through an international recruitment firm, Mrs Van Hecke, a consumption tax specialist for a British accounting firm, and her husband, a firefighter, quit their jobs, sold their house in Bolton, a town in Greater Manchester, and relocated to South Australia.
They enrolled their children in school and bought a house in southern Adelaide.
Mrs Van Hecke took up her new $115,000-a-year role as head of KPMG's GST unit in Adelaide on August 4, and after being made redundant on December 4 she said the company "tried to bully us into moving on to a tourist visa, presumably to wash their hands of us and get out of their repatriation obligations".
"Obviously business is business ... but I am upset that we have been treated this way; the financial and emotional cost to my family is breaking my heart," Ms Van Hecke said.
She said KPMG had wanted her to help develop its GST business unit, which she had been told had lacked direction for many years.
"KPMG had jumped at the chance to talk with me because they had struggled for years and years to fill the post," she said.
"We had a couple of video conferences and they offered me the job. Things are not good in the UK, and I really do not want to go back. We thought Australia would provide a good life for the children, and the opportunity presented itself as a new challenge."
Although her husband and daughter have since returned to Britain, Ms Van Hecke had been given an extension by the Immigration Department to stay on with her son until June 23, as she tries to sell the family's Adelaide house, which remains on the market. She estimates she is $50,000 out of pocket, and is still seeking promised relocation costs from KPMG. Ms Van Hecke said she had received an $8000 redundancy payment in December.
"I am an absolute wreck; it is just not what we imagined it would be like," she said.
"You just want to cry. But we have no choice. We can't stay. I would love to come back one day, despite all that has happened, because Australia feels right for us."
KPMG's corporate communications co-ordinator, Claire Fitzsimons, said in an emailed statement that the company "does not discuss its employment arrangements in relation to any particular employee".