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Union ready to support Hobbycraft workers in language row

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: February 17, 2014

  • Rick Coyle from Unite

  • Hobbycraft, Centrum 100, Burton

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WORKERS at a Burton distribution centre are ready to fight a decision to ban them from speaking in any language other than English.

The country’s largest union could be drafted in to back staff at Hobbycraft, based in Centrum 100, who hail from a range of backgrounds and have been told they must speak English while at work or face disciplinary action.

The revelation, reported by the Mail last week, sparked national headlines and the policy has been blasted by Unite, which has been contacted by disgruntled workers in light of the decison.

Rick Coyle, the union’s regional representative, said: “If the demand is there we will fulfil that demand. We have already started to get calls from Hobbycraft. We have now got members, last week we didn’t have any.”

One Polish worker told the Mail staff had been reprimanded for conversing in their native tongue and that they had been summoned to a meeting and warned that they would face punishment if caught in the future.

Mr Coyle said the actions of management were ‘overbearing’ and ‘without justification’.

He accused bosses at Hobbycraft of overreacting to something that was not an issue, saying the firm had taken a ‘sledgehammer to a nut’.

Mr Coyle said: “Without doubt, it is overbearing and without justification. English is spoken to a high standard by virtually all workers.”

Mr Coyle also alluded to the similarities with the scandal which surrounded the Waterstones distribution centre in 2011, which lies only metres away on the same business park, in which Unite were called in.

He said they were the only two cases he had known where staff had been told they must speak English.

He said: “Most warehouses in this area recognise a union. Policies and procedures are discussed in consultation with workers before being announced.

“That doesn’t happen at Hobbycraft or Waterstones. They are two of the local exceptions to the rule. Both are non-union warehouses.

“In both cases, this was never about language. In both cases, there was no problem that needed to be solved. In both cases, this was about management flexing its muscle.”

Hobbycraft’s Chris Fenlon told the Mail last week: “Having the ability to speak English is part of the recruitment criteria in our distribution centre.

“Therefore, we do ask that during working hours in the warehouse colleagues speak English.

“This is to create a good working environment where all colleagues can communicate effectively.”

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