The front page of the North Wales Daily Post on May Day splashed a story of a worker at the Holyhead Morrisons store who had felt compelled to quit his job after being told not to speak Welsh. The last straw was when he asked another worker in Welsh to move some items into the store warehouse, when the store manager (who doesn't speak Welsh) was passing by.
The manager asked him not to speak in Welsh as he thought the workers might be talking about him. On the face of it, this amounts to bullying a worker into speaking a particular language.
The 2001 census showed that over 20% of the population of Wales spoke Welsh, but this increases dramatically in North West Wales, with 69% and 60% speaking Welsh in Gwynedd and Anglesey respectively. This means that Welsh is the first language of a sizeable proportion of workers in the area.
Being forced not to speak Welsh has echoes of the period of the emergence of capitalism in Wales which saw English bosses ban workers from speaking the language in order to maintain their dominance. Children who only spoke Welsh were forced to speak and study in English at school.
In the present case, the worker's trade union, Usdaw, did not initially take this issue up, although they are now investigating it. That was left to Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) who have organised a picket outside the store to demand the right to work through the medium of Welsh.
They have raised the need for the Welsh Assembly to have legislative powers over the Welsh language which should include the right to work through the medium of Welsh. Workers should have the right to communicate with people in any language that the person they are talking to is comfortable talking in. They shouldn't be bullied into speaking in any particular language just because a manager wishes to pry on their conversation!
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