Regina, Saskatchewan

Labour leader calls policy racist

Teodoro ‘Ted’ Alcuitas

Editor, Philippine Canadian News.Com

A Filipino car executive said he “could not sleep” after witnessing a group of workers at Dollarama being berated by a manager for speaking in Filipino (not Tagalog as mistakenly called) in the store.

Jay Bercades was in the store in south Regina on May 10 shopping for garden tools when he overheard one of the ladies “referring sternly to the other ladies. I overheard her talking, sternly telling them to speak in ‘English only, English only,'” Bercades told CBCNews.

He said he understood the ladies were coversing  in the Filipino language when they were reprimanded.

Bercades, a manager at a Regina auto sales outlet told CBC News that he was “appalled and shock” to observe such treatment.

He said he felt morally compelled to speak out and called media.

According to the CBC report, the manager told Bercades “it’s the rules,” after he said that what she was doing was “not right”.

“We do ask our employees to speak English on the sales floor to ensure clear communications between team members and with customers,” Lyla Radmanovich, a spokeswoman for Dollarama, told CBC in an email.

This is not the first time that Dollarama was accused of racism in the workplace. In December 2017, an employee at the Main Street Dollarama in Penticton told customers to “go back to the rez where you belong.” The employee no longer works with the company, according to a Dollarama spokesperson. 

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Jay Bercades felt morally obliged to draw attention to a situation he witnessed at Dollarama in Regina. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Radmanovich said this doesn’t apply to employees off-shift and said employees who have concerns should contact their human resources representative.

Bercades said the company should take another look at the policy.

“I think, as a growing company, they should look into their policies and acknowledge and recognize the diversity of their employees,” he said.

Bercades says language in the workplace should revolve around communication ethics. Speaking in whatever language is appropriate to the situation. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Bercades said he reached out to media because he remembered reading about a similar “English only” incident from 2017 that led to KFC Canada issuing an apology and condemning a franchisee’s actions after a memo directing employees to speak English only.

He said he “couldn’t look the other way” and felt morally compelled to speak up.

SFL president says policy ‘appalling’

Lori Johb, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, said she was surprised and shocked to learn that a company would have such a policy in 2020.

“To me it’s a very racist policy, and it does not in any way appeal to the people of Saskatchewan,” she said. “Reprimanding a group of workers for speaking in their native language when [they’re] not even dealing with customers is appalling.”

Johb said some employees who immigrate to the province may feel more comfortable speaking among themselves in their first language, while also feeling a sense of community.

“Not allowing people to speak with their peers in their native language goes against that sense of community. I think we need to be a lot more open to that.”

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A spokesperson for Dollarama says the company asks that ’employees speak English while on the sales floor to promote inclusiveness of the store team.’ (Matt Howard/CBC)

Bercades said people in all workplaces should abide by “communication ethics,” meaning the language spoken is appropriate for the situation and those involved in the conversation.

He said there is nothing wrong with people chatting in their own language, especially if it’s about work.

The number of Filipino (Tagalog) speakers in Saskatchewan has steadily climbed, rising 123 per cent in 2016 compared to 2011, according to Statistics Canada.

He said it was his understanding that the ladies were having a conversation with each other about work-related issues.

“I encourage Filipinos and any other immigrants to communicate primarily in English if necessary or as necessary, but that should not stop them from communicating through their native tongue as also appropriate.”

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code does not include language as a prohibited ground, according to a spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

“However, language may be related to other prohibited grounds such as ancestry, place of origin, nationality, or race in such a way that may give rise to a complaint under the code.”

Dollarama was founded in Montreal, Quebec in 1910 by Lebanese immigrant Salim Rossy. It now has 1,200 stores throughout Canada and is branching out to Latin America. It is not to be confused with its two biggest rivals in the U.S. – Dollar General Corporation and Dollar Tree Incorporated.

Dollarama went public in October 2009 at $17.50 a share. It was trading at  $111.70 on April 2020.