Decoding WorkChoices

by 28 Nov 2006

In the Bibles book of Genesis, a united humanity builds the Tower of Babel as a mark of human achievement. Upon seeing these efforts, God is angered as He believes these people are attempting to make a name for themselves, which of course means that they are not worshipping Him.

By way of punishment, God comes up with the novel approach of introducing multiple languages. The story does tend to grind on for a time, but to cut a long story short, the various people could no longer understand each other, the tower was subsequently never built to completion and the various tribes of humanity were scattered to the four corners of the world.

In this story we see the importance of common language and the understanding it brings. I’m not talking about this on a global level, but right here in Australia. Looking at the WorkChoices legislation, you would be forgiven for thinking that God is playing some old tricks again.

While the High Court has essentially delivered WorkChoices the final validity it needed to impact profoundly and, some would argue, permanently on the Australian workplace, the question has to be asked whether the people it impacts are all speaking the same language.

Melissa Yen’s article ‘Hard WorkChoices for HR’(beginning on page 12) reflects on this very topic. As one of my old law lecturers would say, the statute resembles legislative vomit. It is so massive and confused that even the lawyers involved in its drafting must surely struggle to make complete sense of it.

I first heard the tale of the Tower of Babel in a law lecture, where the professor was making the point that understanding the law was like learning a new language. It’s kind of an industry secret that lawyers will speak in legal terms so that nobody else can understand exactly what they’re reading; and, therefore, they will never be out of work.

Seeing legislation as unwieldy as WorkChoices, however, I am again reminded of the Tower of Babeland how it was initially conceived as a monument to achievement. Still, in this case you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking the lofty goal of workplace reform was lost long before it started.