Speak Dutch or Else!

April 27, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - While "English-only" policies have been challenged in American workplaces, a Belgian auto parts supplier has told its workers to speak Dutch - or else.

HP Pelzer, located in the town of Genk in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders region has, according to Reuters, forbidden its workers to speak any language other than Dutch, even during their lunch break, and employees could be fired if they disobey.

Two workers (out of a workforce of 125) at the firm have already received written warnings – three warnings could lead to termination.

“We have people from Italy, India, Poland, Algeria here. It’s to avoid cliques forming here and there,” Geert Vermote, human resources manager of the firm told Reuters. About 70% of HP Pelzer’s workforce is of foreign origin.

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, according to the report.

Belgian newspaper De Standaard reported that workers of Turkish origin, who make up some 35% of the company’s workforce, felt the rule was aimed against them and had asked the union to intervene. However, Vermote said the rule had been approved by the company’s works council and said the “three strikes” rule applied to warnings of any form, according to Reuters.