Saturday, 22 February 2014

How the Daily Mail misreported the Hobbycraft language ban story to suit it's agenda

You have to be very clever to be able to mislead people without telling lies.  Most of this Daily Mail story is true.

But it carefully tells a very different story to the truth.  Here is how they distorted the facts so the story could fit it's anti-EU, anti-worker view of the world:

Line 1. "Foreign workers employed by arts and craft chain Hobbycraft have been told to speak English or face the sack."

This wording implies that the workers are not speaking English.

So how is this misleading compared to the truth? What is the truth?

The truth is that all workers were given an instruction....that English must be spoken all the time during the working day except in rest areas.  This includes private conversations. Prior to this foreign language ban, English was spoken to a high standard by the workers, virtually all the time, and in any case, always when used for work related communication.

The first line is a deception that hooks readers in straight away. Critically, the wording used does not tell readers that the workers are speaking English to begin with. This is a crucial aspect of the truth - for anyone wanting proper context. The failure to report this fact is a clever way to manipulate readers into reaching the conclusions the DM wants them to.  In fact, nowhere in the article is it mentioned that these workers already speak English to a high standard!

Line 2. "Staff at the supplier's distribution warehouse in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, were hauled in for a meeting this week after difficulties arose with different nationalities conversing only in their native tongue."

This is the only line in the story that I believe is fabricated.  Yes, workers were "hauled in" (and threatened.) However,  I am convinced that it is pure fabrication to have written, "after difficulties arose with different nationalities conversing only in their native tongue.". 

Having spoken to workers at the site, nobody has said that there were any individuals who spoke only in their own language.  I believe the DM concocted this part of the story so that the employer is presented as having issued a reasonable request in response to a problem of the workers making.  I do not believe the DM could provide a source to substantiate this claim.

I could go on, but two lines of any Daily Mail report is quite enough for me!

This Daily Mail article generated over 1200 comments, and nearly 6000 shares.  From there it was picked up by other news agencies all over the world and numerous UK radio phone-in shows.  I have done three radio interviews this week as a result of it. A less sensational version also appeared in the Daily Mirror, which attracted 2 comments and 26 shares.   Quite a contrast!

The DM will be delighted that this little story triggered much national debate about "Should foreign workers have to learn English?". 

It's a clear strategy of the Right in the UK....twist any half-truth you can get that might encourage misinformed people to hate....hate benefit claimants, unions, foreigners and the EU. This clever but sinister strategy stops people from talking about the things that are real and actually matter, such as NHS sell off, mass unemployment, zero hour contacts or growing malnutrition in our children.

Had the story been truthfully been told, it might have gone like this,

"Workers who speak good English virtually all the time threatened that all private conversations will be regulated and must also be in English...or face a disciplinary investigation".   

But this truth - the actual truth, would not have cast foreign workers in a bad light.  The truth would not have made nice middle-class Hobbycraft look like it was doing the right thing. Instead, the employer might have looked like an overbearing bully. 

Thanks to the DM, these decent workers have been totally misrepresented to the world. Thousands of misinformed people have written unkind things about them, and have praised the employer.  

Meanwhile the whole episode has enabled Hobbycraft to make some new friends:
Top / All

It's not just the BNP. The British Patriot Society and a host of other far-right organisations have joined in.  

If the story continues to rumble on, the respectable Hobbycraft brand will eventually suffer.  If management are smart, they will think again and build some bridges with it's dismayed Burton workforce. The workers deserve absolutely none of this.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

A closer look at the "Hobbycraft foreign language ban" story

There has just been a media story about the Hobbycraft warehouse banning workers from speaking any language other than English

This has brought back memories of my involvement with the first warehouse to do this - Waterstones (Unipart).  As far as I know, these two are the only warehouses in the UK to have introduced such a policy. Both warehouses are based in Burton on Trent...

The fact that both warehouses are based on the same industrial park (Centrum 100) certainly makes this look like a huge coincidence. Hobbycraft are new to Burton - I assume they are not aware of the media storm caused at Waterstones. 

So what is going on here, and why Burton?   Does Burton have particular language problems?

A closer look reveals this is nothing to do with language at all...

Firstly, it's really not that much of a surprise to me, so I don't think it's much of a coincidence. Most warehouses in this area recognise a union. Policies and procedures are discussed in consultation with workers before being announced. That doesn't happen at Hobbycraft or Waterstones.

Waterstones (Unipart) and Hobbycraft are two of the local exceptions to the rule. Both are non-union warehouses, leaving both brands very exposed to disgruntled workers going directly to the local newspapers. 

There is also a very important difference between these two seemingly identical stories. At Waterstones, Unite members resisted and petitioned the policy as part of a union recognition effort, whereas at Hobbycraft Unite have not (yet) been actively involved. The Hobbycraft workers have no representation. Until that changes, they will be stuck with this resented policy.

At Waterstones warehouse, the workers won the issue. The Unite petition was strongly supported, and the company backed down. By the time the workers won, the media had moved on. The workers victory was not reported.  

Management style tends to be more autocratic when there is no mechanism to be challenged or held to account. In logistics, my experience has been that this is always the case.

I'm tempted to call the language ban policy "a classic case of a sledgehammer to crack a nut" . Without doubt, It is overbearing and without justification. But I'd be exaggerating to imply there is a problem that needs fixing. At both warehouses, English is spoken to a high standard by virtually all workers.

Most people outside of these warehouses I speak to either see this as a Human Rights issue, or (more commonly judging by the comments sections of the newspapers) strongly agree with the actions of the employers because of an incorrect assumption that the workers are not speaking English to begin with. 

But few workers I speak to see this as a Human Rights issue.   

In both cases this was never about language.  In both cases, there was no problem that needed to be solved.

In both cases, this was about management flexing it's muscle.  This was just one of many examples that could be given of a "my way or the highway" style of management. 

The truth is really simple.  Management did it...because they could.