Economy

Oh Mon Dieu! English Invades French Workplace

Getting ahead these days in the land of Baudelaire and Balzac means mastering the language of Shakespeare – or at least, Zuckerberg. No longer just a plus, strong English is often required for both entry level and top manager slots. But it's brou

Is English invading the French workplace? (Guillaume Cattiaux/mcaretaker)
Is English invading the French workplace? (Guillaume Cattiaux/mcaretaker)
Laurance N’Kaoua

PARIS - Employment agency Manpower is advertising for an Accounts Manager: "English – fluent." Logica, a business and management consultancy, needs a support technician: "English – fluent." Health and Security services organization International SOS is recruiting a client support specialist: "English – bilingual." These advertisements, published by the Management Recruitment Agency (Apec), prove what everyone already knows: in business, speaking English is "un must!"

And with good reason: whether the company is trying to establish a foothold in local markets, collaborating with international researchers, selling its products outside of France or employing a foreign manager, English is the need-to-know language.

This is hardly brand new, of course, but the centrality of English in the work world is reaching a whole new level. At SGS, a multinational organization based in 140 countries, all communication from its Swiss headquarters is in English. At Alcatel-Lucent, "We work only in English. The meetings are all in English and when it comes to emails, I hesitate to write in French because they will undoubtedly have to be read by people outside the country as well. And yet, we're based in Paris!," says one of the managers at this multinational company where 100 different nationalities come together.

Even during the all-important annual review, the minutes of the meeting, as well as each employee's objectives, are immortalized in the language of Shakespeare.

Inconsistency

Small and medium-sized businesses are no exception. "Our consultants frequently do business abroad with India, China or other foreign countries. Every other project is carried out in English," says Pierre de Rauglaudre, associate director at Acial, a computing company of 120 people specializing in quality-testing software. The same applies to the 500 collaborators at insurance broker Verlingue, which has bought a brokering house across the channel in Britain.

"For this Anglo-Saxon project, the majority of our 440 associates have had to improve their English in order to be able to follow meetings, attend videoconferences and exchange emails," says Stéphanie Guilbaud, human resource director at Verlingue. "If technical competence is equal, it is English that makes the difference at every level."

And this English-mania is affecting more and more people. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, technicians from French energy company Areva had to quickly liaise with the Japanese. "It is not enough for a manager to be able to speak English with a client," says Marc Verger, CEO of the prodigious training provider Berlitz France. "The demand for English must be met at every level of the company, right down to the switchboard operator."

And whilst progress is being made, the overall level of English in France varies significantly from one employer to another. At the end of 2010, a mystery shopping survey carried out by GoFluent on the 120 companies registered on the French stock exchange highlighted the problems: grammatical errors, limited vocabulary, strong accents… so many failings that service providers are striving to resolve. In 2012, according to consulting company Place de la Formation, English remains the most popular training option paid for by employers with 12.8% of demand.

A source of stress

However, it remains to be said that results are not always forthcoming. Trade unions are sounding the alarm. In March, the CFE-CGC union organized a conference on All Things English in Business. "Some employees feel this imposition of English excludes them," says the union's boss Bernard Salengroof.

In 2009, almost 50% of managers admitted they were uncomfortable when faced with a foreign language at work. Stress, loss of confidence, lack of time for training, reduction in performance, concentration difficulties – these problems are widespread. "Working in a language that is not your mother tongue causes increased fatigue," adds Jean-Pierre Lamonnier, a representative at CFE-CGC. And then there is the fear of ridicule...

Not-for-profit health organization ASA Assistances, which helps people back to work after illness, has been looking into the problem. "We have discovered suffering and unsuspected consequences, like the fact that some internal candidates don't dare to apply for certain posts when faced with managers who overestimated their linguistic abilities," said Catherine Henaff, former Director of HR at ASA Assistances. Since then, she has put in place an internal commission of language observation, while her anti-stress measures also take into account language issues.

Respecting the law

Despite some positive action, problems prevail. "When cost-cutting starts to affect the training budget, some employees end up in no-man's land," says Jean-François Laborde, a CFE-CGC union officer at PSA Peugeot Citroën in Vélizy, on the outskirts of Paris. And yet he believes that the methods used to measure employees' abilities and evaluate the requirements for the position do not seem to be appropriate. "People on the ground don't need academic English; they understand each other thanks to the technology. But we need to be careful that academic English doesn't become the deciding factor for promotions, to the detriment of technical and managerial abilities."

But don't forget French! The Toubon law, introduced in 1994, was designed to regulate the use of French in France – and it is strict. Every official internal document (job contract, company rules and regulations, etc…) must be written in French, as well as all the documentation necessary for employees to carry out the task they have been assigned. The logic behind this requirement is that all employees should be able to fully understand the safety information and instructions in order to be able to properly weigh their rights and responsibilities.

A computing company discovered this the hard way last summer: furious at being fired for not having achieved the objectives he was given, a former top manager claimed that he couldn't be expected to achieve those objectives because they were presented to him in English. The Cour de Cassation, the highest court of appeal in France, upheld his claim. Zut alors!

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Guillaume Cattiaux/mcaretaker

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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