Thursday, September 15, 2011

Linguistic anglophobia

Communication skills are what sets us as humans apart from the rest of the denizens of the planet, no-one else does it quite so well as we do and English for one reason or another has become the dominant language for communication on the planet. Yes there are more Chinese speakers, but writing it down is a nightmare as the character set is immense compared to the western alphabet as used in the UK. So, when you have what to all intents and purposes a common tongue as used in the UK, you'd expect there would be no particular problem to actually getting people to use it for health and safety reasons if no other even if they were from abroad.
Of course, you'd be wrong.
FOREIGN workers at a book warehouse have accused bosses of “human rights abuse” – for making them speak English to their workmates.
Packers at the Waterstone’s distribution centre were told they could not use their native tongues during working hours for health and safety reasons and because it could “marginalise and isolate” colleagues.
Unions yesterday called the ruling “ridiculous” and the foreign workforce, mainly from Poland and Latvia, has drawn up a petition claiming discrimination and breaches of their human rights.
But one Tory MP David Davies, whose wife Aliz is Hungarian, said: “It’s right to expect them to speak English if that’s what managers have decided. It’s a British workplace and English is what should be spoken.”
All staffing matters at Waterstone’s distribution hub are handled by logistics firm Unipart, which manages the site in Burton, Staffordshire.
A Unipart spokesman said: “It’s important for good clear communication among employees that our stringent health and safety standards are maintained and that all employees speak a common language.
Seems the old maxim "When in Rome" no longer applies so long as you have idiot union reps and the Human Rights Act. It's not as if the company is trying to make them speak English at home or even on their breaks.
“Unipart requires all employees to communicate in English during working hours in the workplace. It does not apply during meal and rest breaks. This creates a better team environment and makes sure employees do not feel isolated or marginalised from other employee groups.”
 Seems fair enough to me, the odd times I've done work abroad I've always done my best to communicate in the language of the country I've been in, though admittedly at times not very well, though I could read better than hear in many cases. But from a strict health and safety point of view with regards to safe communication between workes whils working, I think they have a case. The fact that the Unite union supports the workers does rather swing it from my admittedly jaded point of view though, completely missing the point as usual.

But Rick Coyle, a spokesman for the Unite union, said: “It is ridiculous to employ lots of people from other countries whilst insisting they must speak among themselves only in English. Unipart has a lot to learn about human nature and respect.”
One of the problems I had when working amongst Poles at a sausage factory in Tunbridge Wells was that for all a great deal of them could speak English ok, a large minority could not really communicate very well and could not report incidents nor read the safety instructions on the machines properly meaning they learned by rote or seeing, so instructing them in the correct way to do things rather than how their mates did it was frustrating and damned near impossible at times without a translator and even then you aren't sure what actually is being translated.
So in this case, I think Unipart have it right, its for their own safety and to prevent Unipart from being sued by some worker at a later stage due to an accident from a linguistic miscommunication.

1 annotations:

Longrider said...

On the railway, English is mandated in the rule book as communication is safety critical. The unions have never complained about this.

It is reasonable for an employer to insist that all work based communications are conducted in English. Chatter among colleagues though, would be more difficult to impose as there would be no reasonable justification for it.