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R spectre puts public servants under pressure

Ian Watt speaks about the positive outcomes that may be available after being made redundant.

Ian Watt speaks about the positive outcomes that may be available after being made redundant. Photo: Jay Cronan

WHEN public servant Ian Watt accepted redundancy he spent sleep-deprived nights strategising how he would pay for his children's education.

Within weeks up to 12,000 people could be in the same position depending on who wins the election, but the advice from experts and those who have been through it is simple: ''Don't let fear rule you.''

Where Mr Watt saw a change in his life he also spotted an opportunity.

He scored a job with a private IT contractor and after leaving his job one Friday with redundancy cheque in hand started back at the same desk at the same workplace three days later.

''If there was an epitaph on my grave it would say 'a fortunate life','' Mr Watt said.

''When we were told about the redundancy program I still had kids in high school and hopefully going on to university and I thought, 'How are we going to afford that?'.

''There were a few anxious nights.''

Thousands of Canberra workers in the public service or employees reliant on Commonwealth tenders with the sword of redundancy dangling over them are thinking of their options.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has pledged to reduce the public service by 12,000 workers while Prime Minister Kevin Rudd looks to cull 800 senior public servant positions but the real figures will only be known after the September 7 poll.

Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann said John Howard went to the 1996 election promising to cut 2500 government jobs but instead slashed 30,000 nationally, including 15,000 in Canberra which plunged the city into recession.

''Farewells were held in bulk and people were in tears,'' she said.

''It seemed as though three out of four houses on the south coast were for sale.''

Property values will drop if enough jobs are cut in Canberra and financial planner Tony Green said redundancy offers can be deceptive if people were thinking of using their payouts to buy their homes outright.

''They think they'll pay out the mortgage but in reality if they do that they won't have an income stream,'' Mr Green said.

''If they're young the amount they'll be offered will be peanuts. They really need to look at what their liabilities are.

''It may not be in your best interest to pay out the mortgage although psychologically it may seem like the safest thing to do.''

Career consultant Katie Roberts said her business, which helps people move on after redundancy, was receiving more work across Australia each month. She said redundancy could be more difficult for older workers because they had more financial responsibilities and found it harder to change careers.

''A career change might need to accept a reduction in salary,'' she said. ''We look to what their transferable skills are. We try to get people job ready within one to two months.''

Gillian Kelly from Outplacement Australia said people made redundant should move on and not lash out at employers. ''No vicious emails,'' she said.

Some workers who had taken voluntary redundancies had been known to be bitter about their applications being accepted.

''Take time,'' she said. ''Don't let fear rule you. Some people think, 'I need to get a job fast'.

''But you want to make sure the next step you take is the right one for you. You don't want to jump into another industry affected by redundancy.''

People wanting to start their own business should remember the enterprise may not be profitable for a couple of years.

For Mr Watt there was never even the thought he would use his redundancy money to buy a business.

''I know a couple of people who have done that and lost their money,'' he said. ''Besides, I figured if I was going to be an entrepreneur I'd have done it a long time before I turned 50.''

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