CSST Services and Website Available Only in French

Since April 2010, the Office québécois de la langue française required that all communications between the Commission de la Santé et de la Sécurité du Travail du Québec (CSST, Quebec’s workplace health and safety board) and employers, suppliers and partners take place in French only, to comply with the Charter of the French Language. However, if the head office of those parties is located outside Quebec, they may be served in English.

Conversely, this requirement does not apply to CSST communication with employees. They can be served in English especially if it is in regards to their rights and obligations.

Word for word, this is the CSST’s new Language Policy:

As a Québec government agency, the CSST is required to comply with the rules of the Office québécois de la langue française. To do so, CSST employees must abide by the following general principles in their communication with English-speaking workers, employers, suppliers and partners:

  • Workers may have access to CSST services in English, in particular for all matters regarding their rights and obligations.
  • French is the language of work in Québec. All communication with employers, suppliers and partners must be in French only.
  • However, an enterprise that does not have an establishment in Québec or whose head office is located outside Québec may ask the CSST to provide its communications in English.
  • To find out more, consult the Charter of the French Language.

The CSST is willing to receive complaints from employees in English, yet they are not willing to serve the employers in English.

“The message is the language of business and commerce here in Quebec is French, and the public services will use French,” said Office de la langue française spokesperson Martin Bergeron.

But this message and policy do not apply just to the CSST. The Office de la langue française said it noticed back in 2007 that 50 percent of public agencies were offering English services to business owners in the city of Montreal, ignoring the government policy adopted in 1996. The Office consequently conducted a sweep of 165 organizations, including the CSST.

The Language Office requires all government departments and agencies to report annually on the implementation and execution of the new policy within their organizations. This is one of the methods by which it will enforce the policy.

This is all part of a greater strategy. In December 2008, Quebec launched a new campaign to educate retailers and consumers on the use of French as the language of service. Consumers were asked to look for a logo in the window of merchants who wanted to serve consumers in French. The logo said Ici, on commerce en français. This kind of intervention by the Quebec government is an indication of the difficulties the province faces ensuring the French language remains predominant despite large English-speaking and immigrant populations.

The Charter of the French Language makes French the only official language in Quebec; it does not, however, eliminate the province’s traditional bilingualism, which some say favours English. This Language Charter gives French a unique and somewhat symbolic official status, since, under the Canadian Constitution (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Sections 15 (1), and 16 (1) to 22) which supersedes the laws of Quebec, English rests on an equal footing with French as the language of laws, regulations, court and parliamentary proceedings. For the rest, Quebec retains some leeway.

So I am baffled that the CSST, the organization that exists to maintain health and safety in the province’s workplaces and help employers and employees comply with their legal obligations, will not offer help to most English-speaking employers on the application of the law in their language—and even more importantly, their legal requirements relating to workplace health and safety.

Quebec legislators have been charged with protecting the French language and culture in Quebec, and I understand the importance of this strategy. However, there are unforeseen consequences of such a message and policy, which include a possible increase in non-compliance and increased danger to employees as they may be put in the path of serious workplace risks.

Is it worth it!?

Since this is my last blog post before the holidays (taking a break), I would like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings (for those who prefer), and a very prosperous New Year!

Je vous souhaite de belles fêtes et une bonne et heureuse année.

See you in 2011.

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