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The Ubiquitous Petrol Station

One of the most important and least recognised points of contact in a 21st century petrol driven economy, is the ubiquitous petrol station. I'm pretty familiar with the petrol bowser in Melbourne town as the nature of my work means I drop into a petrol outlet at least once a day. In Melbourne the market is carved up between the big three – Woolworths, Coles, 7-Eleven and a smaller franchise United Petrol.

Unlike regional petrol stations that tend to rely on locals to fill positions, petrol stations all over Melbourne tend to rely on one or two labour hire firms to provide labour. These firms are notorious for employing non-unionised, part time staff, mainly overseas students as they tend to not make a fuss about pay and lack of conditions.
So when Mr and Mrs average suburban dweller rocks into their local petrol station to fill their gas guzzler, they tend to be served by staff whose command of English isn’t that great. The interaction can be stressful for both parties. Over time it can be described as civil hostility. Occasionally things boil over and comments like, “where are all the Australians?” (I assume they mean post colonisation Australians), “speak English”, “bloody terrorists” are some of the more printable comments. I don’t blame either side for the situation. It is what it is.

This week I was taken aback while during the normal perfunctory interaction at the petrol station. “Do you have any frequent flyer points? Would you like something else?” The conversation ended with, “`ave a good one.” I blinked, nodded and smiled. I thought to myself, this bloke’s making an effort to try to smooth things over. He was working on the outskirts of the city in one of those growth corridors that seem to go on forever. When you’re working by yourself at all hours of the day or night it makes sense to try to fit into your surroundings. I'm sure if the tables were turned and I found myself working in the Punjab I’d be trying to understand the local idiom. A few well placed words can make all the difference.

I forgot all about it until a few days later I went through almost the same experience during the same perfunctory exchange. “`Ave a good one”. Once fine, twice it’s a pattern. Maybe it’s a coincidence. People do win Powerball although the odds are 27 million to one.
I shrugged my shoulders and went about my business, didn’t think about it until a few days later when I went through the same experience. “`Ave a good one”. Once, yes, twice possibly, three times unlikely.

Sitting back I remembered that all three encounters had occurred at United Petrol stations, the only group outside the big three cartels. Although United Petrol has a patchy record of paying its staff the current weight, it seems they’re putting a bit of pressure on the labour hire firms to acclimatise their staff to their surroundings. A win win situation for customers and staff alike.