Saturday, 8 February 2014

Initial Observations about Work Life in Australia

Hey folks. I've been pretty much busy with adjusting to my new work-life schedule for the last couple of weeks after getting the coveted first full time job in Oz! It's been such an amazing and eye-opening 3 weeks, learning new skills and gaining work experience, especially since I've not actually worked or lived outside Singapore for the last 28 years.

To respond to readers and friends (who have been asking "How's work??") it's probably timely to pen down my initial observations on working in Australia.

Disclaimer! Most of the observations listed are from my personal experiences and based on conversations with Aussie colleagues, friends and other migrants. Depending on your industry/company, it may not apply to you. In addition, do note that I'm working in a different industry now so if you intend to be a teacher in Oz, many of the observations may not apply to you directly.

#1. People value work-life balance.

My colleagues (generally) come to work and leave on time. Because of confidentiality issues, no one brings any work home at all. No one checks or sends emails after work hours. No one works during lunchtime and few eat at their desk. God forbid, but no one needs to feel bad about stepping out of the office before the boss leaves! (Especially since the boss leaves on time, too!!)

Finally found the right path after 4 long years.

#2. People value other people over work.

"Work is important but people are more important." Some of my bosses used to say this back when I was in SG but I feel that in Australia, people genuinely mean it. That's because they don't (just) say it, they show it. There is no emotional/psychological 'penalty' on employees on sick, carer or maternity leave. When the going gets tough and targets cannot be achieved in time, work does not suddenly get 'delegated'. All overtime work is optional. Colleagues who have not spoken to you before are interested in what makes you tick rather than whether you can cover their duties.

#3. People work smarter, not harder.

Point #1 may give you the false impression that Australians are lazy. Truthfully, they aren't. They just know when to work and when to stop. While they are working, they generally work smart too. Ergonomic office designs, using technology to maximize efficiency and having occasional group-led stretching really improves worker health and efficiency. During lunchtime, most of the Aussie colleagues go for their daily stroll in the nearby park or take a powernap on the grass! I kid you not.

I've yet to try it, but I will!

#4. Overtime 'Compensation' - What's that?

Overtime is paid???!!! Got the shock of my life 2 days ago when the team manager asked if I was keen to do OT today (Sat). Apparently lunch is provided, work hours are from 9 to 3 and the weekend work hours are paid 1.5 - 2 times the weekday hourly rate!

For all my non-Singaporean readers, I will point out the fact that a large proportion of employees earning a fixed monthly salary in SG are typically not entitled to OT compensation. Apparently, it is 'understood' that one is paid to do a certain amount of work then no additional compensation will be given for work that is 'supposed to be done anyway'. Never mind when additional work is given. Never mind that the work may be assigned last minute. No wonder Singapore has such a high percentage of unhappy workers. Money doesn't buy happiness but it sure sucks to be taken for granted most of the time.

#5. Rostered Day Off (RDO) - Huh?

A question for readers who have been working in Oz for a long time... Is having RDOs a typical practice? Apparently, some companies (including the one I work for) ask that each employee works an extra 45 mins a day so that they can get an extra day off each month (on top of annual leave and PH). To ensure you enjoy your day off, it is also usually scheduled on a Friday for a guaranteed long weekend once a month?! Talk about good welfare!!

#6. Trust - it works both ways

On my second day of work, I innocently queried a random colleague on how I should go about reporting daily attendance. She must have thought I was from outer space. Apparently the company never had a need to monitor punctuality. There is a shared calendar where HR updates all approved leave so everyone knows exactly who isn't around for the day. In return, I have observed that people are rarely late. (though 60% of my colleagues arrive 2-3 minutes before the clock strikes 9! Talk about precision.) The manager sends out an additional email on days where colleagues take emergency leave/report at a later time.

#7. Taking Sick Leave aka 'Sickie'

To add on to my point about trust, employees are allowed to take sick leave with no documentation for up to 3 consecutive days. Documentations may be required only if the company deems that an employee has taken too many days of sick leave in a year.

No need to 'chao keng' / pretend to be sick in Oz!

#8. Emails are short, sweet and polite. Meetings, too!

The longest email I've received so far had about 3 paragraphs of content. Typical emails are 2-3 sentences and straight to the point. The longest meeting I've had so far is 15 minutes. No one took minutes/notes, everyone who had something to say gave their input and the session was conducted using a small whiteboard. Apparently, the longest meetings are no more than 30 minutes and meetings are held no more than once a fortnight (where I work).

It just makes sense, right? Fewer/shorter meetings and fewer/shorter emails = more time to do actual work. 4 years working in Singapore and I can conclude with certainty that Singaporeans are way behind in this aspect.

Asian logic: More meetings are good! Longer meetings are better!!

#9. Salary and Benefits are NOT a secret!

Most policies to do with leave, benefits and especially salary are considered extremely confidential back in SG when I was working in HR. To my utter amazement, such policies in Oz are discussed between the employer and union and the details of the agreement are readily available online. Click on this link to view a list of actual union agreements for some TAFE institutes. Most of them include the salary ranges and detailed work rights and entitlements, to ensure fairness to employees and for benchmarking purposes.

#10. Hierarchy and Salutations, or the lack thereof

This is something probably not that common in Oz I would think, but definitely one aspect I am extremely thankful for at my current workplace. Our department has just one manager, with the rest of the department (all 30 of us) holding the same position. There are no multiple layers of middle managers, no complex organizational charts and no troublesome job titles to deal with.

Everyone calls everyone else by first name regardless of age or position (no more calling others Sir / Madam / Mrs so-and-so). It is just such an indescribable relief not to bother about your lady colleagues'/bosses' salutations any more. People in the HR line in Asia will know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm sick and tired of remembering that this manager prefers to be known as Mrs Lee instead of Mdm Wong while that director wants to be known as Ms Chia, not Miss Chia because she doesn't like to be reminded that she's not married. Oh good grief. That was quite a challenge when I had to remember the correct salutations for all 150++ lady teachers in the school.

Good morning Mrs Tan... or is it Mdm Ng... wait, it could be Mrs Tan-Ng...

Come what may, I will always be thankful for this awesome opportunity to work and live in Melbourne. I recall just half a year ago, many well-meaning, 'all-wise' friends and relatives have cautioned against leaving the iron-rice bowl ie teaching job in Singapore, telling me I will regret it, there is too much uncertainty and that the grass always seems greener on the other side. Guess what? I am now on the other side and it IS greener here. I am in a honeymoon phase now, you say? Perhaps, I will admit. Only time will tell. But it is hard to argue against work-life balance, being compensated fairly for the work I do, being treated with respect and most importantly, being trusted and given the benefit of the doubt. Of course I'm not deluded and working life here ISN'T PERFECT, but sure is as close to being perfect as I could ever have imagined.

Comments, anyone? Would really love to hear from local Aussies or seasoned migrants in the workforce. 

Cheers, all!
- A


  1. #3 is extremely true.

  2. Yes, what you wrote about working life in Australia is true. I am in Perth. Increment is negotiated by the union over a period of 3 to 4 years, mainly to meet the cost of inflation, Lunch is restricted to half an hour... feel your tummy and back to work. OT are paid if you work more than your stipulated time and penalty ( additional 15% in my company) if you work beyond 6pm. or start too early ( in my company; if you start before 6am). All employees are treated fairly and with respect. My bosses are down to earth and will not hesitate to roll up their sleeves to give a helping hand. Quite a eye opener when I first started. I am in the company for slightly more than 2 years. Enjoy the different work culture.

  3. As far as I know, #1 to #10 are all applicable to the typical B.C. Canada workplaces. That said, I've been advised, "Never work for Asian companies or bosses" because they tend not to follow the Canadian norms, instead they tend to practise the Asian norms of working the employees like slaves.

    As far as I know, #4 is true for those who are on hourly rate, but may not be so for those on monthly rate in B.C., Canada. I know a friend who works for a small firm whose boss supports her flexi-work choices (work hours, work from home) and allows her to "bank" her OT time for OT pay or extra vacation days. Another friend works for a mid-size corporation whose HR also allows some amount of "banking" OT time for extra vacation days, albeit they actually prefer to pay the staff OT pay in most situations.

    #7 totally makes sense. IMHO, too many people clog up the healthcare resources in Singapore (GP clinics, A&E, etc) just to obtain that precious MC ("medical certificate") to prove that they are too sick for work. Worse, too many people continue to be present at workplaces, bringing their virus/bacteria/germs etc along and spreading their latest infection around their workplace. E.g. While working in a Singapore hospital, I've met colleagues who come to work even with a cold, cough, sore throat etc simply because they don't want to be "penalized" in their performance evaluation for taking "sick leave". How much sense does it make for the patients to be attended to by nurses who are themselves sick?

    1. Hey there, thanks for your comment.

      Yeah just tell me about it for #7. Back in SG we all know pple who have taken MC when they are not sick and people who have not taken MC when they are genuinely ill but have too much work to do. Sucks big time. I recall the times I had to force myself to school even though I had a fever the night before, just swallow all the meds and face the day. There are days where the irresponsibility of not showing up for lesson / school events / CCA outweighs the irresponsibility of walking to class unwell. Some will argue nothing is more important than one's health, but in SG that's plainly not the case, regardless of industry. I'm not deluded to think otherwise.

      Canada sounds nice where work-life balance is concerned. Only 2 reasons why I didn't consider there as a migration destination- its way too cold and the wages are significantly lower than Oz (or so I've heard from a few Canadians).


    2. #7 makes sense, but this concept only works well in some places. The pace of life, workload for majority in Singapore is quite high, which makes it impossible for anyone to go away. Especially if a country has a lot of manufacturing, #7 will be abused. Asia is a major manufacturing region so this is why #7 cannot be practice much. Angmohs are also more kind when it comes to this, compared to asians.

  4. #10 is true. There are indeed some older teachers who are really very hung up over Mrs/Mdm. I can sense their discomfort when I call them by their first names. It's like Wassup?! Does calling you by your first name demonstrate any much less respect for you?

    Adding on, leaving at 530pm is a privilege. When I want to leave for my after-work activities, I have to quietly pack up, push in my chair and creep out of the office door. Lo and behold! I will receive comments like... "Oh I better catch you before you leave at 530pm!" It's a sin to leave at 530pm and bear in mind, I come in earlier for work!

    1. Hello,

      Yup completely agree with you there. Leaving work early is technically acceptable but culturally unacceptable in many workplaces in SG. I've heard that the same applies in Japan and HK.

      Don't get me started on the salutations issue!! Some of the more senior lady teachers I used to know will actually tell off / embarrass the younger staff/teachers who get their titles wrong. Anyway this usually stems from insecurity and a certain self-importance on their part, and I'd like to think what goes round comes round... so glad to have left that shit behind. Haha.

      - A

    2. True. But income tax is very much higher in Astralia.

    3. I'm allowing this comment just to bust the myth again. It's just an illusion, unless you are earning quite a lot.

      There have been ample comparisons done elsewhere on the net to show that in SG, you have high hidden taxes, and at least for Oz (I won't say the same of Nordic countries), the income tax isn't nearly as high as what the typical ignorant Sinkie assumes.

      I think we actually will end up paying less tax overall (to me, CPF is another form of tax), and on top of that our tax dollars give us a lot more here.

      Bottomline is, we are happy to pay.

      Another way to look at it is take home pay vs work done. Still Oz wins hands down.

      Cost of living, some areas SG fares better, but other areas Oz wins. If you have a car and house, Oz wins hands down again. If you bought your HDB for $85k like us and have no car, then I think SG has the upper hand here. But for the typical Singaporean struggling to pay for the 99 year HDB, they won't fare any worse in Oz.

      Anyway, Melbourne is getting pretty crowded. To borrow a line which someone used on me before in our blog: "Piss off, we're full!"


    4. Paying "high" income tax in Australia is like paying first when you are young and able, you will get back some if you have children or if you are unemployed after 2 years of waiting period or when you need to see doctor or go for surgery or stay in hospital, enjoying later when you are old, sick and weak, why not?

    5. No need to be unemployed for long or have kids. In any case, unemployment alone is not grounds for welfare (they do means testing as well, welfare in Oz isn't indiscriminate and that's good).

      Just go for upgrading courses. The entitlement is two a year. I'm starting a Cert III in Warehousing soon. UP $1250, I pay $25. I'm doing my Cert III in Automotive concurrently.

      Maybe two cert IVs next year... See how


    6. What you said it's true. Work is work, play is play. You can knock off on the dot and don't bring work home. But one thing I experienced in Perth is that most of the job has no prospect, no career advancement and progression within the company. Once your annual salary hit more than 80K the balance will be taxed at 37%. Some people said, medical is free but I still see many people buying private insurance and it's not cheap. If you do not have private insurance after 30 years old, the loading will hit hard on you. So what's the point paying such a high tax and still paying for the private insurance. On the news, I still hear a lot of complaints about the govt hospital like long queue waiting to be treated, not enough bedding. My friend experienced the medical emergency service waiting time is more than 2 hours. Yes, property is cheaper than Singapore but you are also paying the high interest rate at 5%. Although it's getting like last time 7% but you sill paying out of your pocket and not your retirement funds. We are just a small family so we can't get much tax return from the ATO. It might be better off for a big family and low income earner if you want to get more out from the aussie govt

    7. I know someone working in Sydney only get taxed 26% for earning 95k per annum.
      Medicare levy surcharge based on range of taxable income only 1% for most singles and 0% for most families if they do not have private hospital cover, there are 20-30% rebates for those less than age 65.
      May be you should try your luck in Sydney.

  5. What's your opinion about raising children - cost of childcare, schooling, etc., though maybe not from experience but based on what you've observed so far in general?


    1. Hi Anon, these questions haven't concerned us and hopefully never will but I know some of our readers can chip in. Anyone?


  6. Hello A & S,

    I was brought to this blog after reading your exchanges with LIFT (those who know, knows). Kudos to the two of you for documenting your journey to the land of Oz and of course, for articulating the disappointment and resentment of many Singaporeans. I am one of the 'silent majority' who feels the brunt of everything wrong with this society and never have guessed that I would be making a comment on a blog or on any platform for that matter. Well, it took me this long.

    Admitedly, I did not read the entirety of your blog and only managed to skim the highlights but I gathered that the two of you are now gainfully employed in Australia after crossing the immigration hurdles. Congratulations.

    Having done a little research on the criteria for making the move a few years ago and after reading some blogs on the process (including yours), I'm still perplexed how the average Singaporean could have successfully migrated to Australia, university educated, no less. Allow me to elaborate on my doubts: the SOL clearly indicates a shortage in fields such as metallurgy, dentistry, rheumatology and welding among many others that we would normally consider 'niche' in Singapore. After all, how many metallurgists do we personally know of? Considering that job-search visas would not be granted for people who wish to 'try their luck' for a few months, how on earth do people actually set foot in Australia, let alone find a job at all?

    Which brings me to the next question: we have obviously heard of people who are permanent residents of Australia working in jobs that are evidently not listed on the SOL, for instance, marketing (the infamous Amy Cheong comes to mind). I am going to assume that Amy Cheong obtained her PR the legitimate and legal way so it is all fair play here but I am quite certain office-based positions such as marketing, branding and what-nots are clearly not what Australia desperately lacks, so what gives? And I am not going to speculate that Amy Cheong was 'flexible' enough to retrain as a welder before receiving rights to remain in Australia and changing jobs thereafter. Obviously not.

    The more I read about how people land in Australia without first having a job on the SOL, the more I feel something is not clearly explained; like the missing link in mankind's evolution for lack of a better analogy. It is almost as if a plumber told you he was elected to chair the committee of Genetic Research in Australia. We would be applauding and lavishing compliments for him having achieved that, and only to be struck by the realisation that something about the story is not quite complete. Not totally implausible for that to happen but you get the idea. What I am asking is, how would the average university-educated non-metallurgist non-cardiologist non-super-niche worker be able to gain entry into Australia? Would you like to shed some light here? Thank you.

    1. Hi Renard,

      Thanks for the comment and the depth of thought put into it. Let me address your comment.

      (1) Shortages in SOL. Besides metallugy, dentistry and welding which are admittedly not niche in SG, there are also many jobs/fields listed on the SOL that Singaporeans could already be qualified in. These include:

      - Teachers of all levels (the number of staff in MOE is more than half the ENTIRE civil service)
      - Nurses
      - Accountants
      - Internal and External Auditors, lawyers, solicitors, barristers
      - Engineers (some more specialised than others)
      - Scientists
      - Many, many other occupations in the healthcare industry

      (2) I'm not sure what you mean by 'job search visa'. If you are referring to holiday visas, of course the chances will be slim because the employer will need to sponsor you if they hire you. There are plenty of locals/PRs who are already in Oz and qualified. If you are referring to 457, then the comment doesn't make sense because those on 457 alr have a job to begin with. Admittedly I have not 'studied' all the visas so there may be an option for job seekers I'm not aware of..?

      (3) In response to your reading about how people land in Australia without first having a job on the SOL, let me say that my previous job in Singapore was on the Australia SOL, so I obviously do not belong to the special category you mentioned. I believe at least one person in a family must offer an occupation on the main SOL or any of the State Nomination Occupation Lists in order to gain entry as a PR under 189/190. Those who married PR/citizens or are children/parents of PR/citizens could also gain entry without being specially qualified (after a very long wait, but possible).

      From the perspective from someone who has already migrated, I would say you can only complete the story when you are on the other side. The intangible missing link for us is faith in the unknown, determination to make it work and shattering the deeply ingrained Singaporean mindset. Each migrant's story is so different so each migrant's perspective after coming over will be very different.

      I hoped I've answered your question(s) to some extent. To put it very bluntly, the average person who is not particularly skilled/talented/qualified nor married to an Australian nor working in a job on the main SOL/State's SOL will find it extremely difficult to gain entry as a PR or TR. The average person is unlikely to migrate. The average person will find excuses and complain about his circumstances. The average person will probably not change his occupation to gain entry into Australia. The average person will live an average life and wonder why he is unhappy.

      The extraordinary, however, will find a way.

  7. Hi S, I have been reading your blog since last year as we were on during our journey getting PR. It has provided me with much valuable information. Thank you. My wife, daughter and I will be leaving for Melbourne in Aug this year and we can hardly wait. I am and will be the sole breadwinner of the family in Melbourne. I'm thinking of taking up TAFE courses eg. Automotive mechanics or Carpentry and move into that line. I am open to taking up any job as long it provides for the family. Not much of this information is available online. I was wondering if you are able to shed some light on them for eg. how many courses can I take with subsidy? are there any subsidies to make ends meet while im studying etc. One of the more difficult questions which have hugely differing views is how much money a family needs to survive in Melb. Any thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated.


    1. I did not answer all your questions in my latest post. I can't.

      You have to Google the various TAFE courses and decide what you want. If you are the Primary applicant, then it depends on what is your highest qualification officially assessed by Oz.

      How old is your daughter? Why must you be the SOLE breadwinner? If she's very young, I can understand. Otherwise, ask your wife to work as well. There are casual jobs available at restaurants or cafes everywhere.

      There are no subsidies to make ends meet while you are studying. I think you have to be a resident for a few years plus no assets, and no job despite trying, before you get handouts. Australia is not such an extreme welfare state like some Nordic countries. You may be headed to the wrong place if those are your expectations.

      How much does a family need to survive? I must refer you to Bala, who asked if you want your three meals in a restaurant, food court, or hawker centre. If you do your own home cooking and use a bicycle to commute instead of more expensive means of transport, you will spend very little. How little? You will find out, because I don't have the answer for your case, and we don't track our expenses.

      Roughly for family of 2 per week:

      - $300 rent
      - $30-40 for utilities and internet
      - $10 for petrol (if no unnecessary trips, which we do a lot of... because we can)
      - $25-40 for food and groceries

      These are very coarse estimates, and I have excluded the annual costs for car (you probably can't afford one at all, not if you need to ask for subsidies), our fun activities, and stuff like that. We have also not included the startup costs which may be steep in any circumstance, whether you are in SG or here.

      If you must drive and are not as hard up as you implied, a 2003 Honda Jazz 1.5 manual (for goodness sake avoid the CVT auto version of this car) with 200,000km on the clock could be had for about $5k. Car parts are not prohibitively expensive and if you are in Melbourne, you know who to look for if you need help ;). Of course feel free to explore other offerings in the price range you are comfortable with.

      I bought a bike for $220 brand new for commuting purposes. Thankfully I'm slightly mechanically-inclined because I got what I paid for and it's needed quite a bit of tweaking if I'm honest. Saved me a huge bundle on public transport fares, parking, and petrol :)

      - S

  8. Hi Anon, your question is the last straw. I better get round to doing a clarification post on the TAFE course funding for PRs... Been receiving too many questions and my readers deserve this update. Will start now. Thanks for the reminder ;)


  9. Hi there,

    As a teacher myself for the past 4 years in Singapore, I can imagine how you wouldn't want to continue that in Oz! Your blog inspires me to believe that migrating there is not impossible as long as you do the proper homework. Keep them posts coming. Would love to know how your days in Oz are coming up :)