Industrial Relations in Multilingual Environments at Work

Publication Type: 
Working Paper
Funded by the EU DG employment and social affairs for two years (2014 – 2016), IR-MultiLing researched company language policies and the way they were elaborated and implemented. It especially questioned the role of social partners in this process. The ambition to develop an analytical framework was meant to fill in an important gap in the existing knowledge on multilingualism at work. If most of available research has evidenced the variety of employers’ strategies in relationship to language, it does not fully explain it. Furthermore, little research has been dedicated to trade union strategies. The main hypothesis was that employer strategies regarding language policy are predominantly guided by company business model. They are often reflected in the diversity management policies which provisions also depends upon the quality of industrial relations, especially the involvement of trade unions. A second hypothesis related to the segmentation of companies into different worlds where the use of languages may be different. The predominant use of English as a vehicular language might be establishing new class barriers between the headquarters and management of companies on one side and less qualified workers on the other. Amongst the latter, the use of mother language or community languages might contribute to further segmentation of the labor market. Researching with case studies in six European countries, IR-MultiLing developed a typology of multilingual work environments contrasting multinational and national/local organizations with different management and non-management linguistic experiences. It considered whether workers lacking full linguistic access at work were 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 organizations, trade unions, the issue of who is appointed or elected to represent their interests is an important one.