By David Bates

This week I’m writing my post from the US, where I’m (trying!) to holiday with family.

While on the road here, I’ve gone out of my way to have as many conversations as I can with the staff I meet at hotels, car rental counters and airports. I find it fascinating to compare and contrast the experiences and attitudes of Australian and American employees.

Take for example, Lynda, the waitress who served us drinks at a hotel bar in Detroit. She explained that, as a tipped employee’ , she receives the state’s minimum wage of US$3.23 per hour. Yes, US$3.23.

She also explained there were no such things as penalty rates’ or overtime’ for employees like her in Michigan – she gets the same flat rate regardless of when she works or how many hours she puts in.

She almost fell over in disbelief when I explained an employee doing an equivalent job in Australia is entitled to a minimum wage of at least US$14.97 (A$19.56) per hour. And she thought I was making up the concepts of time and a half’ and double time’ just to stir her up.

I then discovered she receives no paid sick leave or accrued paid annual leave (neither is required by state law). Imagine her surprise when I explained Australian employees receive a guaranteed 4 weeks of annual leave per year and 10 paid personal/carer’s leave days.

After realising employees in Australia earn roughly four times her minimum wage (without tips of course) and receive (comparatively) exceptionally generous leave entitlements, Lynda asked: What about health care – how much do Australian employees pay for that? ’. My answer, 2% of their taxable income because we have a universal health care system’ was, frankly, the final straw.

‘Australian workers must be exceptionally happy!’ she proclaimed. They must provide incredible customer service and be unbelievably content with all they have . Your unions must be hugely popular, and workers must want to work all the time!’.

If Lynda wasn’t already in shock, she certainly was after I explained Australian unions consistently encourage a sense of discontent and entitlement. And that they regularly complain about what are, surely, some of the world’s most pro-employee labour laws. And that most Australian employees take for granted the incredibly generous entitlements (including a 9.5% compulsory contribution by their employer towards their own retirement!) which are guaranteed by law.

As we parted ways, my friendly bar tender let me in on two little secrets: although her minimum wage is just US$3.23 per hour, with tips she often makes more than US$40 an hour. And she works all the hours she can because she’s realised the harder she works, the easier it is to get ahead and make a good life for her and her son.

In an ideal world- in the kind of Australia I’d like to see – we’d find a way to fuse Lynda’s passion to succeed with a clear and easily-understood set of minimum employment entitlements which protect all workers. Then, at last, we could finally part ways with the union-dominated and ridiculously-complex employment laws which continue to prevent every one of us – business and employee alike - from reaching our full potential.