seasonal work (or, “you do what you gotta do”)

So we’re into July now, and that means that in Baddeck – and, I’d imagine, most other parts of the island – we’re now in the busiest two months of the year. You know that saying about making hay while the sun shines? Well, most of us don’t make actual hay anymore, we serve beer and lobster, or man a gift store, but the saying still applies.

The sun is shining. The tourists are here. And it’s time to work our butts off.

I’ll be working some long shifts in the next two months, and while I’m actually glad for it, because it means I’m stocking up hours for my winter EI claim, it may mean my blog posts come a little slower (like every couple of days instead of every day).

Seasonal work is a funny thing. I’ll admit that the times I’ve had a winter “off” – i.e. drawing unemployment – I’ve enjoyed it. Yes, while on EI I’m not making as much money as when I work, but at least I know there is a job to go back to*, and I’ve got some time free. It feels like “catch up” time. Time to rest. Or work on house projects that got pushed aside.

(*God willing. And the creek don’t rise.)

A customer came into the marina the other day. They were from Germany. We were talking about this island and some of the different customs. The woman said something about how bizarre she found it, that the people here “just work a few months of the year. I find that so odd!” She didn’t elaborate much on this oddity, but I’ve heard that view enough to know what she was thinking. It’s as if people who are lucky enough to have year-round work see those of us in the seasonal-work industries and ask, don’t you have any ambition? Why don’t you work all year-round, like I do? Are you happy with this situation?

Yes, and no.

I would love it if Cape Breton had enough small businesses or environmentally-sustainable industry to employ good-sized communities of people here, all year round. I really would love that. That’s one of my biggest dreams for this island I love so much.

But, for now, it doesn’t. And until that day comes, I still want to be able to live here, so I will do whatever I can to continue living here.

Being a seasonal worker isn’t as easy as it sounds, either. When you are working, you’re full on, usually going from morning til night. Sometimes you work two jobs, or three, to make ends meet. Most of the time, the work is minimum-wage, and because it’s only seasonal, employers tend to view employees as expendable, or easily replaceable. That’s not a situation that contributes to a ‘rich working life’, shall we say.

Meanwhile, as you’re slogging away waiting tables or cleaning rooms, you’re waiting on people who are all on vacation, “getting away from it all,” and who say uninformed things to you about how lucky you are to live here. I try not to be bitter about the things tourists say to me, because

  • their leisure is my paycheque, and I really want to like them, and
  • they really don’t realize the struggle most of us go through to live here, so they’re not trying to be ignorant.

But, after a long work-week with too few days off and too many frustrations, it’s easy for me to get resentful.

Anyway, that’s the view from the front lines! Busy as a bee. Hoping for some nice weather on my day off this week, so I can make it to a beach and start racking ’em up for my 10 Beaches challenge. (And pretend to be a tourist here, myself.)

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This entry was posted in 10 Beaches/2012, Jobs, Leah's thoughts, Sustainability, Work and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to seasonal work (or, “you do what you gotta do”)

  1. Get you to the beaches, I say! And well said. — Susan

  2. Colleen Macleod says:

    Why do you persist on saying what a struggle it is to live in Cape Breton? We moved home six years ago and never looked back! You are portraying CB as a horrible place to live. There are lots of jobs if you take the right education and good paying jobs at that! The more people talk about the lack of employment the less people will want to stay. I am sorry but your blogs do not help anyone to dream big Cape Breton.

    • leahcnoble says:

      Hi Colleen – thanks for your comment. I appreciate everyone’s viewpoint on the topic… my main goal is to get conversation going, and to be realistic about all the various experiences. This post is about my own experience as a seasonal worker. That’s great for you and your husband that you have had a completely positive experience here!

      I’m sorry you feel the blog as a whole doesn’t help anyone to dream big… but I’m not sure why! I feel it’s overall a positive blog.

  3. Diane says:

    I do not know how anyone could get ” You are portraying CB as a horrible place to live.” on the contra!
    I think your blog is positive and an outlet to vent or express the sometimes frustrations of living in CB and all the good events in our lives here in CB.

    Keep your chin up Leah try not to let words from ill informed tourist or blog readers upset your journey of dreaming big. I have learn more about the communities around me here in CB from your blog then anywhere else. Your blog is “real” and I appreciate that about you. Haha, I have to giggle here…cause I have yet too meet you! I do not appreciate the sugary coat most people put on their words. Take Joy ~ Diane

    • leahcnoble says:

      Thanks Diane… you’re so sweet. 🙂 I think that last comment might have been my first “troll”… maybe that means I’ve “made it”? 🙂

      I’m so glad that you have gotten so much from this blog. That means a LOT to me.

  4. nona macdonald-dyke says:

    I certainly can see what the German folks were thinking, because in most other industrialized countries folks have to work full-time to make a living. Working two or three jobs at any one time year round seems to be the normal for some folks, just trying to make ends meet since the down-turn in the economy. We are fortunate that EI is there, with good benefits to carry folks through the winter, I certainly used it. I think our children saw us using the EI system and believed that was certainly the way to go, get paid to stay home in the winter, and if offered work find excuses not to take that job while on EI.

    The entrepreneurial drive goes out the door when a person realizes the risk versus reward at opening a seasonal business knowing the EI stops when you become a business owner. I always thought EI should have been made available to the small farmers who are probably, on this island known as the hardest workers,with the longest number of hours, giving them the smallest income of all, resulting in most of them giving up farming and finding work in towns.

    I enjoyed waiting tables, meeting folks on vacation, trying to inform them of places to see on this island, and the minimum wages were low for sure, but the tips sure made a big difference in the amount of money I took home each week, and made it worth while being a waitress.

    I think your blog is super Leah, and am an avid reader.

  5. Aunt Bella says:

    Very interesting conversation here. I’d like to know what the person who never looked back found to do when they moved back here. It would be great to see a Q & A with Colleen. I’d also like to know who would do the seasonal work if everyone here had full-time jobs. I think you do a balanced job of presenting life and opportunities here.

    The seasonal work and EI question is one I have puzzled over for years. One bright spot for seasonal businesses is the option to organize as a worker co-op rather than sole proprietors, or other traditional models. As worker co-ops, I believe seasonal business people, are able to contribute to and participate in EI.

    Research has been going on in Canada about replacing the spaghetti plate of income support programs governments provide to citizens for years. I have heard many reports on various studies that have found that guaranteed annual income is a simpler, more efficient, more healthy, less costly and less demeaning system than those currently in place. One can only assume that governments like keeping people in a situation of uncertainty which discourages them from entrepreneurial efforts and helps provide employers, especially big corporations, with a needy pool of workers to fill minimum page jobs year round.

    More power to Colleen and her family on their success, I’d like to hear what makes living in CB work for her. At the same time, people often do have to juggle a lot to live here over the long term for some families determined not to cave in and leave, it is a struggle.

    Dream Big is inspires me and I thank you for it!

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