Oddly Enough

Speak Dutch or be fired

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian auto parts supplier has forbidden its workers to speak any language other than Dutch, even during their lunch break, and employees could be fired if they disobey.

“We have people from Italy, India, Poland, Algeria here. It’s to avoid cliques forming here and there,” said Geert Vermote, human resources manager of HP Pelzer in the town of Genk in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders region.

Language is a sensitive topic in Belgium, particularly in Flanders where locals and politicians are keen to promote the use of Dutch and prevent the encroachment of the country’s other main language, French.

Two staff at HP Pelzer have so far received written warnings, out of a workforce of 125 employees, some 70 percent of whom are of foreign origin. Three warnings would lead to a worker being fired.

Belgian newspaper De Standaard reported Thursday that workers of Turkish origin, who make up some 35 percent of the company’s workforce, felt the rule was aimed against them and had asked the union to intervene.

Vermote said the rule had been agreed with the company’s works council and said the “three strikes” rule applied to warnings of any form.

“It’s really nothing other than other rules we have, such as a ban on smoking,” he said.