Multilingualism at work
A comparative research project exploring industrial relations in multilingual work environments
In nearly every EU country trade unions and managers are today dealing with a growing presence of workers, both national citizens and migrants, who do not speak and read the national language fluently, or not at all, and who often prefer, when possible or permitted, to communicate between themselves in their own country-of-origin language.
The implications of this growing presence of multilingualism at work remain largely unexplored. How does multilingualism influence the behaviours of trade unionists and human resource managers? Other than a small literature on the trend for multinational companies to adopt a universal language (usually English) to use in inter-managerial communication, and the suggestion that the provision by such companies of better interpreting facilities for trade unionists in international fora may be associated with a stronger commitment to pluralism, little consideration has been given to what is a serious democratic challenge.
IR-MultiLing will research areas of understanding/misunderstanding and intended/unintended outcomes arising from language policy choices and whether the costs and benefits of linguistic diversity map differently for employers and managers than for employees. Researching with case studies in France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Spain and the UK, it will develop a typology of multilingual work environments contrasting multinational and national/local organisations with different management and non-management linguistic experiences. It will consider whether workers lacking full linguistic access at work are treated differently in terms of their access to trade union participation and support. Where they are members of what are still Europe’s largest civil society organisations, trade unions, the issue of who is appointed or elected to represent their interests is an important one. Supported by National Advisory Groups of social partners and other experts IR-MultiLing will add to industrial relations expertise in this little-researched area, develop recommendations for decision-makers and produce a training DVD aimed at trade unionists.
IR-MultiLing is funded by the European Union’s Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion directorate-general.