It is Labour Day weekend here in Wagga. A month later than in North America, it is out of sync with many other things we associate with Labour Day: in Canada, Labour Day was a time when kids returned to school (and for those working in academic settings, those kids came back and invaded the space that had been pleasantly quiet for a few months). Labour Day was the end of summer; you could expect cooler mornings, the leaves would change colour and then fall, the days would get shorter, and, inevitably, it would get cold and the snow would come. Here, it is part way into spring (starts Sept 1 here), akin as much to the European May Day as the North American Labour Day, and midway through a tw0-week school holiday (the school year here is a bit confusing, and not having kids in it, not really on our radar).
To make it even more confusing, different states celebrate Labour Day at different times. It is in the spring in New South Wales (where we are), South Australia, and the ACT. Victoria, a 90 minute drive from here, Queensland and Tasmania recognize it in March (autumn). The Northern Terrritory actually recognizes May Day in early May. But what is similar in all of them is that it is in honour of the labour movement in Australia, specifically the fact that the labour movement won us the right to work an 8 hour day. In fact, in Tassie the holiday is actually called Eight Hour Day.
This is, however, pretty silly. Who actually works 8 hours a day? Not us. Dan works 35 hours a week…sure, he works 8 hours some days, but then ends up with an afternoon or day off to make up for it; he gets paid for 7 hours a day. Lisa…well, she works between 10 and 30 hours a day most days (probably 60+ hours per week on average). But to make it even sillier, by law an employer can’t make you work more than 38 hours each week. So maybe the Tassies need to change their holiday to 7.6 Hour Day (note from Lisa: except in academia, where it would be known as 12 Hour Day… except we would celebrate by only work the normal 7)!
That 38 hour per week law is one of the wonderful things imposed on the nation by a governmental bureaucratic office called Fair Work Australia. Maybe it was the Labour Movement (as opposed to the Labour Party) who standardized a 4o hour work week but then were usurped by the government, and the holiday needs to be changed to Fair Work Day.
Fair Work Australia is also the government department that sets minimum wage. And, from our perspective (being a bit on the socialist side of things) they are doing a hell of a job! Minimum wage in Australia is, get this, $15.51 per hour. Sure, there are lower wages allowed for young people working part time, trainees, apprentices, etc., but anyone over the age of 20 gets at least this much. In most parts of the country (maybe not Sydney or Melbourne) it is a living wage. Compare this to Alberta where it is $9.40. Yikes! What it means is that you can have people working in service industry jobs – retail, restaurants – who actually make enough to live on, maybe not well but they aren’t starving. And they are relatively happy with their job, so you get generally good service from people who aren’t just being gnarly and acting like your request for help is interrupting an important Facebook update on their iPhone. And because the rate of pay for food-industry servers is pretty good, tipping isn’t common. In a good restaurant, you might leave up to 10 percent, but in a cafe or diner, no. Which makes those seemingly exorbitant menu prices a bit more palatable – things look more expensive here, but depending on where you are in Canada, tax and tip might be another 30 percent. Here, what you see is what you pay.
And though this next paragraph could have gone in a HTSA post, the word ‘penalty’ has new meaning here: it is what most of the rest of the world calls ‘overtime pay’. But it isn’t just for working over a certain number of hours (which might not actually be legal); it is for working off of the traditional business hours – meaning if a store is open on a Sunday, the employee is earning at least $22.75 per hour. Not bad for retail work. But even with this fairly high minimum wage, it seems many people (who in Canada would be stuck at that rate for years) earn more. A recent news article comparing wages of men and women (men earn more…Australia isn’t that much different than anywhere else…sadly!) pointed out that the average female retail worker earns $906 per week, which works out to over $22 per hour for a 38 hour week. Since all of those hours can’t be on a Sunday, this is a pretty good wage (men in retail, for some reason, earn about another $2/hour). Not surprisingly, retailers complain that the penalty law costs them a lot, and say that they might just stop opening on Sundays.
So, yes, it is a long weekend for us, the first since moving here. Australia has fewer statutory holidays than Canada, so where we are used to having almost one per month (some not for everyone, but the UofA gave us anything that resembled a holiday, such as Remembrance Day and Family Day), we get about half of those here. Oh well, we’ll trade those days off for the climate.
But even more than it being a long weekend, it is a big weekend in Wagga and Australia. In Wagga, the end of last week was the Wagga Show. We went with some friends (who wouldn’t normally have gone) to see how it compared to Ganmain; it wasn’t nearly as good. It wasn’t the real rural experience. It had a huge midway, some cheesy ute and motocross displays, and a lot of people selling Dagwood dogs (aka corn dogs) and sausage sangas, and really horrible coffee. But there wasn’t any sheep shearing, no dogs herding sheep, not as many animals, not as many cool baking and craft competitions. And no pie eating contest. There were fireworks, which we didn’t stick around for but instead went back to the friends’ house for wine and Indian take-out; so we watched the fireworks from the middle of their street (they live on the hill that blocks our house from seeing the show grounds). There are also boat races (the Paper Tiger Catamaran competition!) on Lake Albert this weekend. And probably something else; there’s always lots going on.
Even more important across Australia is that it is Grand Final Weekend. This is the end of football season; the AFL final is in Melbourne on Saturday and the Rugby League final is on Sunday in Sydney. The clerks at the bottle shops will be earning their $22 per hour this weekend! We don’t know if we will actually watch any of the games on television…maybe the AFL one. We don’t really know much about either final: Geelong is playing something, and Manly are playing something, not sure if they are in the same league and playing against each other, or different leagues and they are playing someone else…obviously with 2 games there are a couple of other teams. But that’s about the extent of our football knowledge: 2 games means 4 teams. And Meat Loaf is
providing musical entertainment performing at the AFL game. How Australian is that…(not! It was widely reported in the press that he thought the Magpies were from Geelong; silly man… everyone knows that the Cats are from Geelong and the ‘pies are from Collingwood) (Dan here…that was Lisa’s edit….not everyone knows that the Cats are from Geelong [pronounced Juh-long) or the Magpies from Collingwood – I didn’t even know that the teams were called the Cats and the Magpies, but I do know I had a really great shiraz from Geelong last week!)
And as an aside it is also a big weekend in our family – we’re sad that we are missing a wedding in Ontario…best wishes K&E! We can’t wait to see the pics.
And for those of you wondering, that isn’t really a chook/pom cross up there, it is the silkie chook that won first prize in this year’s show. There are a lot of strange breeds of chickens that we didn’t know existed! Many people have chooks in the backyard here (seriously!); Dan’s keen to give it a go, but Lisa and the cats are not so sure… (Dan here again: just wait until we get our own house. I ‘ve already got plans on how to start the brood!)