TESCO and a recruitment agency that supplies it with workers were yesterday accused of instructing people not to speak Welsh at work.
The row follows a similar instruction issued by the travel firm Thomas Cook to its employees in Bangor.
This time the offending instruction is said to have been issued in Cardiff, where Swiss-owned recruitment agency Adecco provides around 300 workers to the Tesco financial services centre in Llanishen.
A memo sent by Adecco to its employees – known as “associates” – at the Tesco centre said, “In accordance with Tesco policy we would like to remind associates of the need to work with professionalism at all times.
“As Tesco is a successful national company we appreciate your contribution to the business. In order for operations to run smoothly, there is a business need for English to be spoken at all times when you are at work.
“However, at break times associates may speak in their native tongue.”
Cardiff Central Liberal Democrat AM Jenny Randerson said, “It is essential that a strong line is taken against companies such as Adecco, otherwise there is a danger that this insidious practice will spread.
“Only this week the Assembly has been attempting to strengthen the position of the Welsh language in Wales but a widespread adoption of this practice could seriously undermine the language.
“Welsh is not just taught in schools, it is an integral part of Wales’ culture and everyday life.”
Lib-Dem Welsh Language Champion Eleanor Burnham added, “It is utterly disgraceful that a company be allowed to dictate to its staff which language they use whilst working, particularly in the capital of the main Welsh speaking country.”
Adecco denied that the instruction had been intended to be discriminatory towards Welsh speakers.
A statement said, “The communication has been taken out of context. The statement was intended to encourage associates to speak English for business communication. The diverse nature of the workforce means that there are a variety of different languages spoken within the workplace, so this request was delivered to ensure effective communication within a business context.
“However, we apologise for any offence taken by the contents of the memo and would like to reassure the workforce that we will work closely with Tesco to take a common-sense approach to communication.”
The company added, “Adecco was asked by Tesco to send out a communication to request employees speak in English for business communication.”
Tesco spokesman David Nieberg said, “The memo that was sent out was drafted by Adecco, not by Tesco. It was worded unfortunately. We want to see a common-sense approach. Obviously if a Welsh-speaking employee is talking to a customer who also speaks Welsh, we have no problem with that.
“But it makes sense for English to be the main language for business communication, including internal communication, because it is a common language.
“Not everyone speaks Welsh. If there were five people sitting round a table and one of them didn’t speak Welsh, it makes sense for them all to communicate in English.”
Dafydd Morgan Lewis, national organiser of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, said the case demonstrated the need for a new Welsh Language Act.
He said, “Here is another example of why there is a need to strengthen Welsh language legislation by giving linguistic rights to individuals so they can use their native language at work.”
Cymdeithas yr Iaith has organised a number of demonstrations against Thomas Cook over its ban on using Welsh at work and a further protest will be held outside the firm’s Bangor shop tomorrow.
Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones has said the implications of the Thomas Cook row helped focus coalition negotiations on the need for further Welsh language legislation.