Expats in times of coronavirus
Health coverage and the certainty that health will prevail are fundamental in the management of posted workers
Few foresaw in the business sector a pandemic like the SARS-CoV-2 that is shaking the global economy. With no precedent in recent history to build on, companies are having to adapt work and personnel management schemes, also with regard to expatriates . In a situation in which each country establishes its own measures, displaced persons and experts point out some fundamental aspects: from the tranquility of being covered in health matters and communication to the certainty that the health of personnel will prevail.
Rubén Martínez de Marigorta, 32, works in Santiago de Chile as a manager at UR Global, a Spanish company that helps establish and manage subsidiaries of other companies in some Latin American countries. She has been teleworking for almost three weeks and her work routine has not changed much since then, although video call meetings have multiplied. He says, on the other end of the phone, that the company has sent them a message of calm and that they are covered.
Both in the coronavirus crisis and in less extraordinary situations, health coverage is crucial for expatriates, especially in those territories where public health systems are deficient .
In Nursultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, Diego Amado also works from home. He decided to move his activity there, although the measure was voluntary in the country, and he has an office for himself. Amado, 31, is general manager of E-Zhasyl, a group that develops waste treatment plants. He is also calm. “As an expatriate, I am covered by company insurance and, if anything happens, they could send me to Spain with medical treatment,” he says in a call.
Typically, a private policy is included in the posting letter, which lists the conditions of mobility, according to Alfredo Aspra, head of the labor area and partner of the law firm Andersen Tax & Legal. “But it is not mandatory,” he points out. “Spanish healthcare is a benchmark and it is difficult for this level to be maintained in another country. That is also a situation that leads you to offer complementary health coverage, “says Ramón Portela, director of international mobility at the consulting firm Mercer, in a video call.
The quality of Spanish healthcare is one of the reasons why Rudy Boeman, 51, a Belgian expatriate at Toyota Spain, feels safe. “All the people tell me that the Spanish health system is one of the best in Europe and in the world,” he says. This situation surprised him practically just landed in Madrid, where he arrived in Brussels in January, for a three-year stay.
Both countries have implemented similar measures. “I think being here or in Belgium is more or less the same. Only that the family or the couple are not close and you have to spend it alone, “says Boeman. The only thing that worries him a little more is finding the airports closed and the lack of flights in case of an emergency, but he hopes that it is not necessary and for the moment he has not contemplated repatriation. “But I think if I had asked the company, I would not have had any problems,” he says. Amado says that he valued it at a certain moment, but ended up rejecting the idea.
Their companies have also not put this option on the table until now. Martínez de Marigorta says that they have not offered it to him because they know they are calm. “In this case, it has not yet gained as much strength as in Spain and it can happen to us as much in one place as in another.”
Companies are not obliged to repatriate their employees and this decision depends, in many cases, on the agreement between the parties, says Borja Montesino, partner in charge of human resources management at consultancy PwC, by telephone. “If there is an imminent danger, the worker has the right to request not to provide the services for which he has been hired, but that this would result in repatriation is not clear,” says the expert from Andersen Tax & Legal.
With the advance of Covid-19, some of the large internationalized companies have opted to bring their workers back. The Banco Santander , for example, repatriated displaced short – lived. “Most people who were for a few months in other countries have already returned to their places of origin,” say sources from the entity. For those with longer stays, early return was not activated “unless someone was in some special situation to consider, personal or family”.
Gestamp , with a significant presence abroad, has also opted for repatriation in many cases. “In others we have managed the accommodation and the extension of visas, if circumstances allowed it,” report company sources.
If the repatriation is temporary, which would be expected in a situation like the current one, according to Montesino, it is normal for the benefits for the employee to be maintained. Portela adds that it would also maintain benefits if the decision is made by the company. If the employee does, they could be reduced.
Faced with an uncertain scenario like the one the pandemic has drawn, experts advise opening a close channel of communication with employees, making tools available to them to cope with the situation and making them feel that their health is above all else.
Jaime and Cristina, who have preferred not to give their last names, have been expatriates in the German city of Braunschweig for three years. They work for Volkswagen , displaced there from the company’s Spanish headquarters. Jaime says that from the beginning very clear protocols were applied. “In Germany it is perceived that they are taking measures. Culturally, even with a normal flu, they send you home right away. You feel that the first thing is security and that later you will see how the rest is solved, “says Cristina.
At first teleworking was implemented in stages, but today it affects the entire workforce. “All trips have been canceled and expatriates, both new and those who finish their trip soon, are not going to change their destination or return for now,” adds Jaime.
Martínez de Marigorta, Amado and Boeman also feel supported by their companies. “They are very aware of us. They ask us on a daily basis if we need something, if we are well, if our relatives are also well… ”, says the first. “We are in contact daily,” says Amado. “They have also told me that if there is any problem, contact them to see how to proceed,” he adds.
Juanvi Martínez, leader of Mercer’s career area, insists that the priority must be the well-being of the employee. And he adds: “In a context like this, the response of companies will mark the future relationship between them and their employees.”
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