Newcomers to Australia are often required to adjust to some new experiences and ways of doing things in the workplace. For those readers who have recently started to work in Australia, or are about to embark on such a venture, let me share some of my personal experiences, which may help in the adjustment period.
Legally, full time employees are required to work 38 hours per week together with reasonable additional hours. In practice, professional employees are expected to work hours substantially in excess of this minimum, taking into account the nature of their roles and the salary that they receive.
When I first started working in Australia, I was surprised to see that Australians worked just as long and hard as South Africans did, often working late at night, contrary to the common perception of Australians having a very laid back lifestyle.
Commuting to and from work
Unless you can afford to live close to the city, you should expect long commutes to and from work. Generally speaking, Australia's public transport system is very good. However, if you decide to travel to and from work using your own vehicle, peak hour traffic can be extremely busy and slow. Therefore, if you use your own transport, try to avoid peak hour traffic or else use public transport or a lift-sharing scheme.
Unlike the position in South Africa, perks such as motor vehicles and parking spaces are not very common unless you are a very senior executive. If you work in the city and decide to pay for your own parking, you will find that this is usually exorbitant.
Flexible working arrangements
Although there is a statutory right to seek flexible working arrangements – particularly in circumstances where employees have children under school age or with disabilities, or in other circumstances where the employee has carer's commitments – this ultimately comes down to the requirements of each business and whether it has a culture of flexible work practices. If this is important to you, you should try to find out as much information as you can about your employer's flexible work practices and policies.
Australians have a very strong sense of community and it is common for employees to actively participate in voluntary emergency management activities (for example, when Victoria experienced its worst bushfire season in 2009). By law, employees are entitled to take reasonable time off work so that they can participate in these activities on an unpaid basis.
Christmas bonuses and Kris Kringle
Christmas bonuses are not commonly offered to executive employees in Australia. Bonuses are usually paid based on performance and meeting KPIs rather than as a gesture of goodwill during the Christmas period.
It is also common for staff to participate in ‘Kris Kringle' at Christmas time which involves employees putting their names in a hat and then buying a gift, for a nominal amount of money, for the person they have picked. The person who gives the gift remains anonymous. This practice has been known to result in the giving of very unusual or inappropriate gifts!
Footy is a favourite discussion point for many Australians and helps to break the ice when meeting a new worker or client. Having a working knowledge of footy and supporting a particular team will help you settle into most Australian working environments.
What is your experience of working life in Australia? Share it with SAbona readers by commenting below.
Costa Brehas (B.Proc – University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa) practiced as an attorney and conveyancer in South Africa and is currently engaged as a senior associate in the Employment and Workplace Relations Department of Hunt & Hunt, which has a national presence throughout Australia.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice.