Friday, April 3, 2009

English only rule should stand at Thorndon New World

A store manager wants his staff to communicate in one of the official languages of New Zealand and it makes the news. Slow news day over at TV One.

Let's get a few things straight. A supermarket is a workplace. Not a pub or a gym or a library. A workplace. You have to have 'an official language' to make things work. Larger stores employ up to 200 staff, many from other countries and who are non-native speakers of English.

My first job was as a packer at Hillcrest New World in Hamilton. I was 15, on $4.25 an hour (before tax), drove a red Nifty 50 and life was good. I was reasonably diligent although the store owner thought I was too thick to be promoted up to a checkout chick after I put pool chemicals in a bag with some one's silverbeet-that's another story.

After listening to 24 Anthony Robbins Cd's, I recovered from my pool chemical setback and worked as a grocery sales rep and a brand manager for one of the 'evil' supermarket brands.

I must admit, I too baulked after seeing a "please speak English only on the shop floor " sign in the staff room of a large Auckland store about four years ago. It sounds very 'Adolf'.

The department manager (not a native speaker of English) didn't mind at all.

"We can't have a couple of Indian guys putting out yogurts speaking Hindi and a Chinese guy standing next to them putting out cheese getting left out. Bad for the team," said the voice of reason.

The main motivation for the policy is to limit chatter between staff in other languages. You'll notice a number of stores have other languages spoken by staff advertised and encourage customer interraction in other languages.

It's very tempting to torch the supermarkets but this time, I'm with them. Put your posters back up Thorndon New World.

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