Supermarket Under Fire for English Only Rule

Simon Bradwell, ONE News (Wellington), April 2, 2009

A Wellington supermarket is under fire for ordering workers to only speak English.

The Thorndon New World has told staff they may get a warning if they break the rule and a notice to staff posted on the supervisor’s kiosk spells out the English language policy.

But both customers and experts are unimpressed by the notice.

“It seems pretty amazing, in New Zealand in this day and age when we’re such a multi-cultural country, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect in New Zealand in the 1930s,” says employment law expert Peter Cullen.

The notice says foreign languages make customers and staff uncomfortable.

“It is certainly discriminatory and I would like this company to look again at its policies and remove that discrimination aspect from them,” says National Distribution Union president, Robert Reid.

Earlier in the week a sign was displayed telling staff if they were caught speaking a different language they may get a warning, however that notice has now come down.

Cullen says if a worker does get a warning for speaking a different language “they should challenge it”.

Under human rights commission guidelines, an English-only policy can only be justified for reasons such as health and safety.

Five years ago Auckland’s Fort Richard Laboratories brought in an English-only policy, saying it was a vital in the manufacture of medical supplies.

Fort Richard says they were allowed to retain the policy after discussions with the Human Rights Commission.

New World told ONE News the notices had been issued in error, staff wouldn’t get disciplined for speaking foreign languages and the matter was being investigated.

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