Public sector dehumanising language

In a newspaper article about council refuse collection the other day, the featured council’s representative referred to employees as ‘operatives’. For me, this word represents all that is wrong with literary cleansing for political purposes.

I see the people who collect our refuse as ‘people’; operatives makes them sound like machines and dehumanises them. We used to call them dustmen or bin men, because they were predominantly men, but I see nothing wrong with using dustwoman.

Our dustmen are very helpful and cheery, as are our posties, both men and women, and I think of them as individuals: real people. ‘Operatives’ suggests they are cold, unthinking, mechanical, inhuman and unable to take pride in helping the community.

No doubt, many councils and public sector organisations trot out the old cliché that ‘our people are our most valuable asset’. Well, if that’s true, treat them like people and show them some respect when talking about them.

The dustmen and women and all the people who actually provide services are the public face of councils and public sector organisations and often create much better PR for them than any good-news glossy magazine, press release or damaging comment by a representative in a newspaper.

After our last blog, are you cutting out unnecessary words?


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