The Guardian 12 October, 2005

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Tug your forelock and watch the ads

In our Congress documents — the documents prepared for our Tenth Party Congress held last weekend — there is a reference to the fact that employers are trying to do away with the gains won by the working class over the last two hundred years.

They want to return workers to a master-servant relationship, says the document. That’s a relationship in which workers do as they’re told and don’t talk back to their betters.

And if you don’t think that employers are trying to do this, consider the case of a woman I know. She works as a receptionist and general assistant for a vet in Sydney.

In my time I have employed a number of secretaries, receptionists, book-keepers, etc. If the applicant seemed suitable you put them on the payroll and they got on with the job.

Not now, apparently. My friend had to sign a contract for the job — a twenty-page contract, no less.

The contract contains clauses prohibiting her from many things — joking with the clients, for example. (Seriously. Seems she might tell a rude joke and give the business a bad name!)

If she leaves the job — either voluntarily or by being sacked — she is prohibited during the next 12 months from taking a similar position anywhere within a 20-kilometre radius. So if a rival sets up in business just down the road and offers her more money, she is legally prevented from accepting the new job.

Clearly, such clauses are not there for the benefit of the worker. They are exclusively to protect the business interests of the employer, regardless of how irksome or burdensome they might be to the employees.

I do not know how common such contracts are in Australia for routine clerical/receptionist/assistant positions. I do know that in England, contracts along these lines are once again common-place.

In their heyday, in both England and Australia, masters once ruled the roost. In England, even the relatively poor employed the very poor as servants.

With the upsurge in neo-­colonialism and the growing divide between rich and poor in developed capitalist countries, there is a corresponding surge in the number of "domestic servants".

How long before such contracts as the one above begin stipulating that employees must display a suitably "deferential and respectful attitude" towards their employers — not to mention the employers’ business associates, family and friends?

And how long after that before doffing your cap, tugging your forelock and bending your knee in the presence of the rich and powerful becomes a contractual obligation?

My friend did not want to yield to this outrageous contract which strips her of her dignity. But, as she said, "I need the job. So I signed."


I see creativity on television is back in the news. Not creativity in the programs, mind you, but creativity in the ads.

I know you can argue that that is really an oxymoron, but then it was put forward at the oh-so cutely named "4um?" conference on advertising and design.

The conference was held in Brisbane and, according to the press, creativity was the "main theme". Of course, in ad-speak, "creativity" tends to equate to "novel", something that has not been copied already by all the other agencies.

The reports from the conference lamented the unadventurous nature of most "clients", how they were reluctant to spend the money to get a really "creative" ad.

As Amy Smith, head honcho of a Melbourne ad agency put it, "I think that we’ve one of the most dull business landscapes in Australia. [Advertising is as dependent on jargon and as destructive of the English language as the Pentagon.]

"They are all too concerned with following the brand manual out of Switzerland."

Unlike the rest of us, the advertising "industry" does not see TV ads as irritating intrusions that interrupt programs apparently to insult your intelligence. They are in fact the equal of the programs!

One ad agency partner addressing the "4um?" conference actually referred to the hapless TV viewers, whose only defence against ads is the mute button on their remote, as "consumers" (of ads, of course). He also claimed that they "will come to expect advertising to be fresh rather than just a new interpretation of an existing idea".

Here’s a "creative" idea: how about doing away with the ads altogether, and devoting all that money and creative energy to making quality local programs? Australians can make intelligent, innovative and rewarding programs. With protection from US competition, and a responsible Broadcasting Control Board that did not regard clones of overseas lowest denominator programs like Big Brother and Australian Idol as acceptable "Australian content", we could have truly exciting television in this country.

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