Labour Research September 2016

Law Matters

Public sector language requirement

The government has produced a draft code of practice on the new legal requirement for public sector, customer-facing workers to be fluent English speakers (or fluent in Welsh if in Wales).

The requirement, as set out in the Immigration Act 2016, will apply from this October to a vast range of workers, including many union members. 

The government describes the code as giving “practical guidance on the standards and practices expected of public authorities” when complying with the new language duty. 

The code addresses issues, such as setting language standards and suggested action when workers don’t meet these standards.

The standard of English required will not be the same across the board — this will vary depending on the nature of the role. When setting standards, the code suggests taking into account the frequency, topic and length of spoken interaction, whether communications involve technical words and whether communications are accompanied by written material. 

In terms of workers who have not reached the required standard, the code states the public authority must provide support, for example, by way of training and redeployment. 

The new language requirement is a danger zone for employers and employees alike. Reps will need to keep a watchful eye over members who may be subjected to discriminatory treatment in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and enforcement of the public sector equality duty.