Gwynedd, Wales: TRAVEL agent giant Thomas Cook faces race inquiry

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Jun 11 13:35:27 UTC 2007

*Travel giant faces race inquiry*

Jun 10 2007


by Matt Withers, Wales On Sunday

  TRAVEL agent giant Thomas Cook was last night warned it could face a race
probe after banning its staff from speaking Welsh at work. The Commission
for Racial Equality says the high street chain may be in breach of race
relation laws after the manageress of its store in Bangor told workers they
were no longer to speak the language to each other.

The firm has confirmed the nationwide ban and says it ensures "clear
communication" among its staff. But it now faces a possibility of an
investigation, as well as protests from pressure groups who have accused the
company of "disgraceful" behaviour. The policy emerged last week when the
manageress of the store in Gwynedd, who does not speak Welsh, told staff
they must converse in English with each other.

Ironically, staff at the store in the strongly Welsh-speaking city had only
recently started wearing badges provided by the Welsh Language Board to show
customers they spoke both languages. Nobody at the store itself was willing
to comment yesterday. But a statement from the company said: "Thomas Cook
requests that all staff speak English when discussing work-related matters
in the work place. This ensures clear communication at all times and is
respectful to team members who do not speak other languages.

"Thomas Cook employs staff from many cultural backgrounds, therefore the
company appreciates its staff may want to talk to colleagues in other
languages for anything that is non business-related."

But Chris Myant, Director of the CRE in Wales, warned the move might break
the law. "I think they need to think very, very carefully about this," he
said. "It's quite possible it might be in conflict with the Race Relations
Act. It is an area where there isn't a great deal of cases that have gone to
the courts, but the courts have said in some cases it's unreasonable what
the employer is asking, because it clearly is possible for a company to
function perfectly well where the employees speak to each other in Welsh.

"And where a company functions well there is no reasonable right for an
employer to stop them speaking any other language. It sounds as if Thomas
Cook could be at risk of one of its employees taking it to an employment

Language campaigners have reacted with fury to the policy.

Hywel Griffiths, chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, said the company's
actions were unacceptable.

He said: "It's absolutely disgraceful. What does come out of this strongly
is that this would never have happened had a new Welsh Language Act had been

"We would imagine, in Bangor, that a lot of their customers are
Welsh-speakers and a lot of their employees are Welshspeakers. "

Aran Jones, chief executive of Cymuned, accused the company of "idiotic

He said: "Thomas Cook are lovely people when they're talking about how their
tourism doesn't destroy the lives of Indonesian tribespeople, but not when
they're telling Welsh people they're not allowed to speak their own

There would definitely be some form of protest against the company, he said.


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