Despite calls for professionalism and better health and safety, work and alcohol seem intertwined. There were cries of protest and calls for Britain to examine its apparently growing culture of political correctness recently when Lloyd’s of London banned drinking during business hours.
Though laws differ (public drinking is completely banned in Melbourne, while only partially in London) the social role of alcohol remains the same. The goal is to get through the day, to survive the week and get hammered at the nearest opportunity. But the average white-collar career demands 40 hours a week or more, so for many workers, the office and it’s nearest watering hole are their main source of social interaction.
Lloyd’s ‘zero-tolerance ban’ was a response to an increase in alcohol-related employee grievances. Whether at the office or at lunch, the three-hundred-year-old company’s staff can no longer enjoy so much as a half pint of Fosters before the day’s work is done.
We’d all happily work somewhere where there’s free beer and regular Friday night blowouts to send off every busy week. Offices with self-serve keg beer and fridges packed with booze are considered the dream and sometimes show up in job listings as their main selling point.
Labelled ‘Orwellian’ or “PC gone mad” by those on the receiving end, the issue always arises when drinking tips over into excess, which is in no way unique to London. The Australian government is also working hard to reduce alcohol consumption during work hours, citing a loss of production and an increase in bad behaviour as major causes for concern.
The British Government’s Health and Safety Executive’s pamphlet ‘Don’t Mix It: A Guide for Employers on Alcohol at Work’ begins by pointing out the economic disadvantages of on-the-clock boozing and a similar Australian publication, compiled by Comcare, mentions a loss of $4.5 billion to the country’s economy each year due to alcohol consumption at the workplace. But no matter how much data you bring to light, alcohol has become an integral part of our culture. The ‘punters’ don’t like being told they can’t have a drink.
At work and beyond, the biggest difference between Australians and Brits and how they deal with the bureaucratic interference is just how much of a fuss the Australians will kick up.
Pub-goers and nightlife advocates took to the streets of Sydney to rally against the New South Wales government in 2014 when it introduced its infamous lock-out laws, which forbade pubs and clubs from opening their doors after 1.30am and demanded last drinks be served by 3am. Even pub rock legend Jimmy Barnes took up the chant as protesters loudly condemned the laws, claiming they would ruin the city’s vibrant nightlife.
Yet Sydney’s infamous King’s Cross area, a main target of the lockout laws, has experienced a drop in non-domestic violence of 45% since 2014, which has been lauded by lockout-law champion and former NSW premier Mike Baird as strong evidence of its success. Kings Cross is infamous for its deadly one-punch attacks – in particular, the case of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly who died after he was assaulted seemingly at random in the area in July 2012.
That’s not to say London is without its more violent towns or that police aren’t quick to link assault to alcohol in those areas, especially those with 24-licensed bottle shops, where emergency workers claim they experience the most alcohol-fuelled incidents. But the average Brit seems much more willing to make sacrifices to live in a safer city.
As mayor, Boris Johnson was praised for banning alcohol on public transport in 2008 and London has managed to keep a close eye on its nightlife without resorting to the harsh measures adopted by Sydney. Additionally, with such a racially, religiously and ideologically diverse population, the British attitude towards excessive drinking is much more lukewarm.
Even though Lloyd’s new rule hasn’t quite gotten the thumbs up from London’s drinking population, it’s hard to imagine Australian office workers would take kindly to a total ban at the National Australia Bank, especially approaching Australia Day or the Grand Final – two of the nation’s most boozy days.
Australians suck down their frothies loudly and proudly and the British are happy as long as they can have a pint at the end of the day. In any culture with access to alcohol there will be problems. What’s important is how they are dealt with.
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