Language of Work in Federally Regulated Private Businesses in Quebec not subject to the Official Languages Act

Table of Contents


Summary

In Quebec, there are two separate frameworks governing language of work that apply to different categories of businesses and workers: the Official Languages Act (OLA), which covers all "federal institutions" (i.e., institutions of Parliament and the Government of Canada), and the Charter of the French Language (Quebec Charter), which applies to all provincially regulated workplaces. Approximately 135,000 employees at some 1,760 federally regulated private businesses in Quebec are not currently subject to the OLA or the Quebec Charter.

This report endeavours to determine the place occupied by the French language in those 1,760 Quebec businesses. The report is divided into three parts. Part I gives a statistical profile of the use of French in the federally regulated private sector in Quebec, while Part II provides a summary of the consultations carried out with key stakeholders. Finally, Part III describes best practices with regard to language of work.

In order to present a profile of federally regulated workers in Quebec, a statistical analysis was carried out. Although the data used in this analysis call for careful interpretation and do not differentiate between a company's internal and external communications, a number of facts could be established.

The statistical analysis allows us to conclude that French remains the language of work for the majority of workers in Quebec, including those in federally regulated businesses. It also appears that bilingualism is very much in evidence in the Montreal area and that it is more common in federally regulated industries, particularly in rail and air transport and in telecommunications. Given the nature of their activities, it is likely that employees in these industries communicate in English more frequently with persons and organizations outside Quebec.

Furthermore, close to 38 percent of federally regulated businesses with 100 or more employees, not subject to the OLA, have voluntarily obtained a francization certificate from l'Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF). These businesses employ about 55 percent of federal jurisdiction employees of companies with 100 or more employees. This finding supports the hypothesis that internal linguistic practices at federally regulated businesses are very similar to those observed in provincially regulated businesses.

As well, a number of stakeholders from the business community and unions were consulted to determine whether employees are able to work in French, whether their work tools are available in French and whether they are able to communicate with their supervisors and with one another in French.

The federally regulated employers consulted confirmed that their employees are able to work in French. Work tools are generally available in French, with the exception of specialized materials available only in English. Some employers also mentioned the importance of employees being bilingual so that they could communicate with the head office (if located outside Quebec or abroad), with suppliers or with clients. Employees are also able to communicate with their supervisors in French. Lastly, while few companies have adopted an internal language policy, many of them promote French in their workplaces.

For their part, union representatives made observations that were similar to those reported by employers, notably that in general, employees are able to work in French, that work tools are available in French (immediately or later) and that employees can communicate with their supervisors in French. However, many noted an increase in bilingualism in the Montreal area. Some also noted that certain tasks and some communications with senior management are more often conducted in English if the head office is situated outside Quebec.

In summary, although the available data must be interpreted with caution, we are able, in light of the data analysis and the information obtained from consultations with employer and union stakeholders, to conclude that employees of federally regulated private-sector businesses in Quebec (not subject to the OLA) seem generally able to work in French in their workplaces.

Introduction

In Quebec, there are two parallel frameworks governing language of work for different categories of businesses and workers: the Official Languages Act (OLA) and the Charter of the French Language (Quebec Charter).

Canadian official languages policy, as reflected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the OLA, is founded on the principle of equality of the two languages. The OLA sets out obligations relating to the use of both official languages within federal institutions (i.e., institutions of Parliament and the Government of Canada), in particular with respect to proceedings of Parliament, legislative instruments, the administration of justice, communications with and services to the public and language of work. The OLA also applies to current and former Crown corporations such as Air Canada, CN and various ports and airports. The OLA applies to some 76,000 employees in the public and private sectors in Quebec.

Every federal institution has a duty to ensure that all members of the public are able to communicate with and receive available services in either official language in the National Capital Region and regions designated as bilingual. The public's right to be served in the official language of its choice takes precedence over an employee's right to work in French or English.

According to the Official Languages Act, English and French are the languages of work in federal institutions. It is incumbent on these institutions, in the National Capital Region and in other designated bilingual regions to ensure that the work environment is conducive to the use of both official languages while allowing employees to use the official language of their choice. In Quebec, designated bilingual regions are: the Greater Montreal region and bilingual regions in other parts of Quebec (mainly situated in the Eastern Townships, the Gaspe and western Quebec). Elsewhere the language of work is French.

In designated bilingual regions, services for employees (for example, human resources) as well as work tools must be available in both languages. Institutions must also ensure that supervisors are able to communicate with their employees in both languages and that senior management is capable of functioning in French and English.

As for the Quebec Charter, it recognizes French as the official language of the province of Quebec. It applies to approximately 3. million workers. Its provisions apply to the legislature and the courts, civil administration, semipublic agencies, educational instruction, commerce and business and labour. The Quebec Charter sets out as a fundamental right, the right of workers in provincially regulated workplaces to perform their duties in French.

The Quebec Charter does not specifically regulate oral communication between an employer and an employee or between employees. However, the employer is required to draft written communications to staff in French, as well as offers of employment or promotion. Collective agreements must be drafted in French and arbitration awards must be translated into French or English, as the case may be, at the request of one of the parties.

The Quebec Charter also permits the use of English (or another language other than French) for communications between businesses in Quebec and those situated outside of Quebec. The use of a language other than French as the language of operation is also permitted in head offices and research centres by special agreements with the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF). In the case of head offices, the OQLF must be satisfied that communications outside of Quebec are substantial enough to justify the use of a language other than French. As of December 27, 2012, 53 special agreements with respect to headquarters and research centres have been signed.

It should be noted that both legislative frameworks take into consideration the relationship with the external environment, and require that the need for proficiency in French and English for a particular position be demonstrated.

In Quebec, approximately 135,000 private sector employees at some 1,760 federally regulated companies are not covered by either the OLA or the Quebec Charter.

This document analyzes the place occupied by the French language in private sector workplaces that are under federal jurisdiction in Quebec and that are not subject to the OLA.

The document is divided into three parts. Part I provides a statistical profile of the use of French in the federally regulated private sector in Quebec. Part II provides a summary of consultations carried out with selected stakeholders. The objective of the consultations was to determine, among other things, whether employees in the workplaces concerned are able to work in French, whether work tools are available to them in French and whether they are able to communicate with their supervisors and with one another in French. Part III describes best practices with regard to language of work.