I meant to write about this when it happened rather than over a week later, but it slipped my mind. It falls very neatly under one of the various foci of this blog, the language of politics, and therefore I should have pounced on it earlier. Anyway:

The Howard government has just launched a new advertising campaign to counteract the unpopularity of its Thatcherite industrial relations laws. The issue of whether or not public funds should be spent on this ad campaign rather than the Liberal party’s money (I’ll give you a hint: Not), is beside the point. The point is that they’re also changing the name of the legislation.

When the laws were introduced, they were called Work Choices. It is a misnomer in itself because the net effect of the laws has been to reduce the number of options for employees down to a simple ‘Sign the contract or find another employer’, which, it appears, is legitimate business practice and appropriate employee relations for Australian industry¹. In spite of the implication of this name, the legislation was gravely unpopular and the government decided to drop the name altogether.

The Government has stopped using the term WorkChoices to describe the legislation, saying the change of language is designed to highlight the newly introduced fairness test for low and middle income earners on Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). (source)

The title WorkChoices has been banished in this campaign, which aims to allay the fears of voters who are anxious about the laws and promote a new “fairness test”.

And newspaper advertisements, which feature the slogan “Know Where You Stand”, do not mention the controversial workplace agreements by name. (source)

I subconsciously switch off whenever I see a government ad so I can’t be a good judge, but the Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey’s aesthetically nauseating website has a media release wherein no such instance of Work Choices occurs.

This is going to be a bit of a loose connection, but does this show anything about the government’s stance on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or Linguistic Relativity?

First off, the fact that the laws were unpopular, despite the benign sounding name Work Choices, suggests not; the electorate were quick to see that the laws had nothing to do with “choice”. But then again, the fact that the government drops the name in view of its unpopularity, while everything else about the laws remains the same, indicates that Howard et al. buy into the theory that language can have some influence on the way we think. Otherwise they may as well name the laws anything they want. “Fred” comes to mind!


¹Before anyone starts raving at me that, statistically speaking, workers on AWAs (Australian Workplace Agreements, individual contracts) earn more than those on EBAs (Enterprise Bargaining Agreements, collective contracts), I might point out that while it is statistically true, the data is skewed by the fact that just about every management role, every executive role, every CEO, is filled by someone on a contract, and they naturally earn more. In some cases they earn much much more (and often undeservedly so).

I might also point out that that is not the point. It’s been demonstrated that uneducated, unskilled workers, the most vulnerable in the entire workforce, are being forced to sign away benefits, and occasionally income, just for the opportunity to work. As far as industry and business is concerned, jobs go to the lowest bidder. The logical extreme of this situation already has a name: slavery.