Are bilingual jobs in Wales discriminatory? - Dreams and Dialects
 
If you've ever been job-searching in Wales, you are bound to have come across this at some point. There it is: the perfect job for you, and you are the perfect candidate! A match made in heaven! Finally! Where do I sign up? I-- uh, oh, great, "Welsh speaker essential". Nevermind.

And no doubt, anyone who has been politely shown the door because of their lack of linguistic ability has probably been left wondering why they are being discriminated against, or why positive discrimination is still acceptable, especially for the Welsh language. "Isn't having the language forced on us in school enough? Now I actually have to be able to speak it?!". I wouldn't really blame you for being angry. 

That is, until I did some reading. A few months ago I would have argued that jobs requiring Welsh speakers are actually pretty discriminatory, but I have now seen the light. So today, I want to give you a summary of why I think it's perfectly justifiable to have jobs that are 'Welsh speaker essential', and why non-Welsh speakers have very little to no reason to complain about them.  

Note: These are the very basics of what I wrote in a recent essay assignment. I have left a lot out for blogability reasons. 


Everyone speaks English anyway, so why do we need Welsh speakers specifically?

I think it's important to get this mentioned before I get started on the discrimination aspect: bilingualism isn't what the majority of monolinguals think it is. Very few people are perfectly balanced in both of their languages; it is completely normal for bilinguals to feel more confident in one language than the other. So, say if you're in hospital and you need to explain to your doctor exactly what's wrong with you, would you rather: 

a) Use your second language, which you have trouble expressing yourself in and have a very restricted vocabulary

b) Use your first language, which you feel comfortable using and feel able to express yourself far more fluently in

This is something that many minority language speakers experience daily, and this is just one of many situations where being able to express yourself accurately and confidently is essential to your well-being. This is why it's important to have these jobs, to help make people feel confident and comfortable in a situation where they are already feeling vulnerable or are at risk. Now, is that really so bad?

Okay, but aren't these jobs just for Welsh speakers a form of racism?

First off, having a job advertised as 'Welsh speakers only plz' is not racist. Why? Because not a single one of these job advertisements have stated a need to actually be Welsh. You could be Welsh, English, Danish, Estonian, Japanese, whatever, it doesn't matter, you just have to be able to speak Welsh. The reason why people think that it's an issue of race is because, being a minority language, the majority of people who speak Welsh just happen to be Welsh

By this logic, you are also claiming that there is an ethnic difference between Welsh-speaking Welsh people and non-Welsh-speaking Welsh people. And to be fair, I'm pretty sure my mother and I aren't two completely different ethnicities. 

But it's discriminating against non-Welsh speakers who apply for that job!

Prioritising a Welsh-speaker over someone who doesn't speak Welsh for a particular job certainly does look discriminatory, and I don't blame anybody for believing so. But seriously consider this for a moment: aren't all jobs discriminatory

Hiring: Personal Assistant. Must have excellent people skills. 
Great, I'm socially inept and have zero people skills. This job is discriminating against introverts!

Hiring: Cleaner. Must have valid driver's licence as job will require travelling to various locations. 
I'm a great cleaner but I don't drive! I'm being discriminated against for being environmentally conscious!

Hiring: Nurse. Must have competent knowledge of Welsh as will be working in the Welsh language heartlands. 
I'm a fantastic nurse but I can't get this job because I don't speak the local language? This is discrimination!

Do you see what I mean?

What about positive discrimination/affirmative action?

I don't know where you stand on the whole 'positive discrimination' front, but it is a tricky topic. Is giving some people an advantage for being in a particular ethnic group really 'equality'? This isn't something I want to get into in this blog post, but I'm just going to argue why giving a Welsh speaker a job over a non-Welsh speaker isn't positive discrimination. 

Positive discrimination is the promotion and inclusion of a certain group in a particular occupation because they have been discriminated against in the past. 

This is precisely what is not happening in Wales with Welsh speakers. Why? Nobody has never been denied a job simply for being a Welsh speaker. The government is not trying to promote the visibility of Welsh speakers in the workplace because of past discrimination, rather they are trying to promote the visibility of the Welsh language so that Welsh speakers in the wider community can live their lives through the medium of Welsh. It's about ensuring that Wales is a truly bilingual country, not about getting Welsh speakers better jobs. 

But prioritising a Welsh speaker for a job undermines the whole idea of equal opportunity. 

No it doesn't. 

Equality of opportunity does not mean that anyone has the right to have whatever job they want. You have to be qualified. Giving a Welsh speaker a job over a non-Welsh speaker in a hospital in Gwynedd is no different to giving a job to a tractor driver over a non-tractor driver on a big farm. 

Being able to speak Welsh in the job market is a skill. It's being advertised in schools as an employable skill. It's not nationalistic or racist. It goes without saying that knowledge of English is necessary for the majority of jobs in Britain, why is it such a big problem when we ask for the same thing in a community of minority language speakers? 
5/20/2013 05:49:06 am

As far as your three cases go,
1. is clear that the matter is a skill that forms a core part of the job for the personal assistant requiring "people skills".

2. with the cleaner, the driving to various locations is secondary to the main activity of the job, it would be wrong to discriminate against someone who chose to travel by bicycle for instance. Another issue is it would be discriminatory if someone can't drive for medical reasons, rather than as a matter of personal choice, or not having passed their test.

3. An issue is to advertise a job as requiring someone to be a "Welsh speaker" is a bit vague. Does it mean a basic conversational level of Welsh, or a native or equivalent level of fluency. Do such job advertisements specify what qualifications are needed in Welsh, or what activities the candidate would be expected to be able to do using the Welsh language as part of the job (e.g. be able to conduct a medical consultation through the medium of Welsh)

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AwSam
5/20/2013 11:04:28 am

Great post! The only thing I have a problem with is the "tractor" argument, in that "tractor driving" and "speaking Welsh" aren't exactly comparable.
Yes, driving a tractor is a skill that has to be learned. But, you also need the equipment and the training to use the tractor. On the other hand, any language is a new skill that can be learned without any new equipment (because you already have it built-in).
If I were making this argument, I'd change the "tractor" analogy to something else. For example, exercise: you train your body to move certain ways and do certain stuff, just like you teach your brain new syntax and you train your mouth to shape new words.

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Mona NicLeoid
5/30/2013 06:23:22 pm

Just wanted to send you a thumbs up and good vibes, your article has been shared on Facebook and has received various positive reactions. I thought it was a bit sad to read just a few and irrelevant comments here.

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Dusty
3/3/2014 01:17:44 am

Hi. I enjoyed your article. I do agree, although it does depend on which part of Wales you live in. For instance. I live in Colwyn Bay, part of Conwy Council, which has a much smaller percentage of Welsh speakers (approximately 14%), but the criteria is the same.

So, the fact that employers are excluding approximately 86% of the potential talent pool, I do find that discriminatory. Having lived on and off in the area most of my life I can say with complete conviction that encountering a native Welsh speaker is incredibly rare.

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Cymreigiwr
8/13/2016 02:26:42 am

'Encountering a native Welsh speaker is incredibly rare'. What an absurd statement! It's mathematically illiterate for a start.
Those of us who speak Cymraeg look no different to anyone else - it's not branded on our foreheads! I guarantee that you know many of them, whether you realise it or not. You just assume they don't because you only ever see them in an English language context, because you only speak English.
14% locally speak it, i.e. potentially more than one of 10 random people you encounter on the street! If you know 300 people, then typically 42 of them speak Cymraeg.
So frustrating when twpsynnod argue you don't exist in order to deny you your rights in yoir own land.

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jean
4/6/2014 04:00:29 am

We moved to wales from england with our three children several years ago, the two younger boys age 6 & 8years were very lost at first in school as the teachers spoke very little english to them, they then had a term of intensive welsh lessons and are now actually better than their welsh counterparts at both Welsh and English, my eldest daughter was 13yrs and so the school system thought it a waste of time to try to teach her welsh as studies suggested they didnt learn as well after 10years of age so as such she has little or no knowledge of welsh and now at 18years IS struggling to find any job, if she wanted to progess in a career she would have to learn welsh to a high standard in both written and verbal, this I do find discriminatory, I also know of teachers born and bred in wales who are passed over for a teaching post as their written welsh isnt up to standard, yet, they could actually be a far better teacher than the one who happens to be great at welsh this again I find discriminatory and are we actually overlooking the person best skilled for the job in favour of someone who is better at welsh, I do love being in wales and would never move back and have no problems with bilingual speakers needed but I dont think the ability to speak/write welsh should be the number 1 priority for the job, over and above other skills needed for the particular post, it is a very hard language and it is not just one welsh language, their are different regional variations which make it even harder and I know welsh born and bred who still struggle with written and spoken language.

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Jean
4/6/2014 07:11:11 am

Firstly I am not sure on the tractor driver analogy .... what has it got to do with language the nurse I can appreciate in wales it would be helpful to speak welsh but a tractor driver the language should not make a jot of difference, yet I am sure it does, as with many other careers where I am sure speaking welsh isnt necessary.

Nurse and Tractor driver are both learned skills, yet if a qualified non-welsh speaker and qualified welsh speaker applied for either of the two jobs in wales the person speaking welsh would get priority for the job and in most careers in wales the priority would be the welsh language and second the person best skilled/experienced at the actual job in question.

No welsh speaker has ever been refused a job in wales yet I (wonder) if a Non-welsh speaker has, therefore I see it as discriminatory and I find it sad that my daughter is struggling to find a job in wales and her job options are vastly reduced, we love it here and the people and the lifestyle just wish it held a bit more job prospects.

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Miri Collard
7/10/2015 03:11:12 am

Thanks for this post. Welsh is not a dialect, it's the language of the country and it isn't too much to ask that people speak it in certain jobs.The discrimination was, for example, when children had the Welsh language beaten out of them following the royal commission "Blue Books" .and now it's time to claim our heritage back.

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Dafyn Jones
7/11/2015 06:11:56 am

If the job is customer facing and requires dealing with the public at large, then yes, speaking Welsh is a hard tick. But in other roles such as technical and logistical posts where the technical knowledge is of greater importance than language, we are condemned to not fulling posts and mediocre candidates simply because local authorities have placed this caveat. To get around this they use consultancies to carry out jobs that could be done in house but they have fulfilled their positive discrimination criteria by not making them full time employees despite paying over the odds for the service.

When Gwynedd merges with Conwy and Anglesey councils it will be interesting to see if the language policy is then enforced across the whole region as the majority in Conwy are not first language Welsh

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