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Welsh-speakers in the public sector should be paid more, says councillor
by Dafydd Meirion The leader of Gwynedd Council in Welsh-speaking north-west Wales has suggested that Welsh-speakers in some professions such as education, health and social services should be paid more because they have an added skill. These are professions which deal directly with people, and the ability to communicate is
Jacques-Yves Le Touze pour EUROLANG le 28/11/03 18:54

by Dafydd Meirion

The leader of Gwynedd Council in Welsh-speaking north-west Wales has suggested that Welsh-speakers in some professions such as education, health and social services should be paid more because they have an added skill. These are professions which deal directly with people, and the ability to communicate is essential. Although 19% of the population of Wales speaks the language, only 3% of public service workers speak Welsh. In Gwynedd, up to 80% of the population speak the language, and children and old people find it difficult communicating in English.

The ability to speak Welsh is essential for every job with Gwynedd Council

‘The Assembly Government has already set a precedent,’ says Plaid Cymru Councillor Richard Parry Hughes, who made the suggestion. ‘They give incentives to teachers to teach through the medium of Welsh. Where there is a scarcity of teachers that can teach certain subjects, such as modern languages and science, in Welsh, they receive £2,000 extra salary.

‘The ability to speak Welsh is an extra skill,’ he added. ‘If Gwynedd Council and every other public body had the right to pay more of a wage to a bilingual person, then we could make real gains in the number of people speaking Welsh.’

But this idea was rejected by the Assembly Minister with responsibility for the Language, Welsh-learner and Labour Party member Alun Pugh. ‘Whilst the ability to speak both of the languages of Wales is clearly important for some jobs, to suggest there should be a general premium for Welsh-speakers is ludicrous.’

But there was support for Councillor Hughes from the language pressure group Cymuned. ‘The ability to communicate with the majority of clients in the language of the client’s choice is indeed a professional skill like any other,’ said spokesman Wyn Hobson. ‘The lack of such a skill impairs such workers’ ability to deliver a full professional service. In a wide range of professions, it is customary for the level of skill possessed and for the achievement of further skills to lead to salary advancement. There is nothing in the least outlandish in the idea of applying the same incentives to the speaking or learning of a locally prevalent language by workers who are in direct contact with the public.’

The suggestion was also rejected by the secretary of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales. Although recognising the benefits of bilingualism, Liz Hewett said that ‘it would be an unreasonable precedent to pay people more for their ability to speak two languages. It begs the question, why stop at Welsh Because in Cardiff there is a sizeable Somali community.’ But Cymuned says that ‘extra salary should also be available to nurses who can speak Somali fluently with patients from that community’. It is worth noting that many members of the Somali community in Cardiff have learnt Welsh fluently.

Although it seems that there is hostility to the idea that those able to speak Welsh should be paid more, many public bodies either hold Welsh classes on their premises or release staff to go on courses to learn the language. Many jobs in the public sector are advertised as there being a need to be able to speak the language for the post and therefore there is an added value to the ability to speak Welsh. But it seems that the idea of paying more to a Welsh speaker is not acceptable and even Councillor Hughes concedes that ‘it will probably never happen’.

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