Don’t speak Welsh, it’s against Health and Safety

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A row has broken out in the tranquil Welsh island of Ynys Môn (Anglesey) over a hotel’s instruction to its kitchen staff not to speak Welsh at work when the head chef is present.  The Carreg Môn hotel is near the village known locally by the short name Llanfairpwll, which is internationally famous as the village with the longest name in the British Isles and the longest railway name sign in the world.  The area is a popular tourist destination.

The hotel claims that for staff to speak Welsh in the kitchen would breach health and safety regulations as the head chef, Bob Marshall, is not a Welsh speaker.  Mr Marshall is also the staff member responsible for ensuring compliance with health and safety legislation.  A letter to staff was included in payslips saying: “I would like to ask all staff if they could refrain from speaking Welsh in the kitchen area.

“Head chef Bob Marshall is in charge of the kitchen and cannot speak or understand the Welsh language; in order for our hotel to run in an efficient and professional manner it is imperative that all staff understand one another.”

One outraged employee, who did not wish to be named, said that employees were even banned from speaking Welsh amongst themselves and added: “The vast majority of the people who work here speak Welsh and this has really upset a lot of people.

“It is a breach of our rights …  We are happy to speak to him (the head chef) in English about work.  I can’t see why we can’t have conversations amongst ourselves in our language.”

Speaking to the BBC, Ruth Hogan the hotel manager who signed the letter to staff, denied that the hotel had any issues with the Welsh language and said: “There is absolutely no discrimination against the Welsh or English language here, it’s only about safety standards.”

In a reply to a letter sent by angry Welsh language activists Ms Hogan denied that staff had been banned from using the language, saying it was instead a “request for the staff not to address Head Chef in Welsh as he does not understand or speak the language.”  Ms Hogan added:  “How can a kitchen run if staff cannot understand one another?”

Ynys Môn is one of the remaining bastions of the Welsh language, and is spoken as a first language by over 60% of the island’s population.  In some areas over 85% of the population are native Welsh speakers.  The Carreg Môn hotel employs 25 staff, of whom all but three are fluent in the language.  What has most attracted the ire of Welsh language campaigners is the assumption that it’s Welsh speakers who must adapt themselves to non-Welsh speakers who move into Welsh speaking communities.  English speakers who come to live and work in these districts often do not make any effort to acquire Welsh.  

One Welsh language activist noted: “Often the people who refuse to learn Welsh are the very same people who complain about immigrants in England not learning English.  But it’s one rule for people from the Subcontinent, and another for English monoglots.”

Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Board), the official Welsh body responsible for ensuring that the language is legally protected, is to write to the hotel to request a meeting with managers in order to discuss the use of Welsh in the workplace.

A spokesman for the Board said that the organisation felt it was, “a shock and a great disappointment that an employer on the island takes this stance against the language.”

The Board spokesman added: “This could be a matter the Equalities and Human Rights Commission may want to take up.  Under current legislation, the Welsh Language Board’s powers do not cover such instances.

“But it is a clear example why protecting people’s freedom to speak Welsh at the workplace has been included in the new Welsh language legislation, which will come to force next year.”{jcomments on}