PBLA unhappy with Saeima over failure to defend Latvian in workplace

Requiring business and government employees to speak Russian is absurd in a country where the official language is Latvian, and that’s why the head of a leading diaspora organization says the group is unhappy with the Saeima’s recent decision to not amend the Labor Law.

In a Feb. 7 letter to Saeima Chairperson Solvita Aboltiņa and to party officials, Mārtinš Sausiņš of the World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība, or PBLA) expressed regret at the parliament’s failure to consider amendments that would have strengthened the status of the Latvian language.

The Saeima on Feb. 3 rejected the amendments proposed by the National Association (Nacionālā apvienība “Visu Latvijai!” – “Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK”) that would have restricted employers’ ability to require employees to be able to speak a foreign language.

“Asking employees in state offices and businesses, where the only official language is the Latvian language, seems, in our opinion, disproportionate and absurd,” Sausiņš wrote. He added that the PBLA urges the Saeima to revist the issue soon.

Increasingly, employees are being asked to have foreign language skills, usually Russian, even when it appears the job has nothing to do with providing services to foreign clients, according to the National Assocation’s proposal. The result is linguistic discrimination against those Latvian residents who do not speak Russian, meaning that they cannot find jobs in many businesses and government offices, especially in areas of high Russian-speaking populations.

Under the proposed amendments, employers would have been barred from disproportiately requiring specific foreign language skills. Foreign languages that are official languages within in the European Union—and those do not include Russian—could be required only if job duties could not be performed without that skill.

Non-EU official languages, including Russian, would have been allowed only in situations and professions defined by the Cabinet of Ministers.

Speaking to the Saeima on Feb. 3 in support of the legislation, MP Inese Laizāne of the National Association noted that a high percentage of ethnic Latvian youth are not learning Russian. Because they cannot find jobs without that skill, they are forced to look for work abroad.

Ainārs Šlesers, leader of the For a Good Latvia! (Par labu Latviju!) party, countered her by arguing that the real question is how to help Latvians become competitive in the employment market. He noted that in tourism and the transit business multilingualism is an important job skill.

Forcing employers to take on workers who know just one language is not a solution, Šlesers suggested.

“In a small country we should establish a policy that, when they finish school, young people know at least three languages,” he said.

On a 34-32 vote, with 22 MPs abstaining, the Saeima rejected a motion to send the legislation to the Social and Labor Affairs Commission, thereby ending consideration of the bill.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

9 thoughts on “PBLA unhappy with Saeima over failure to defend Latvian in workplace

  1. I never thought I would say this, but I agree with Šlesers. “Young people (should) know at least three languages.” Latvian, English and either German, French or Spanish. In fact, young Latvians usually learn three languages in high school.

  2. There is more to this story that should be investigated. In such an important issue, why did 25% of Saeima (22 votes) abstain from voting? Someone should identify every one of these gutless wonders that are afraid to represent Latvians.

  3. On the one hand, there must be a way to determine whether Russian being required is actually based on a need for the language and not because the locals in a majority Russian speaking community (e.g. Daugavpils) don’t want to speak Latvian. On the other hand Latvians should recognize the value of learning Russian, despite the bitter association with an occupying dictatorship. Regarding foreign languages, the more the better! In other European countries they are very slow to recognize the importance of Russian, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish in the global markets. No offense to the French, but what practical reason would you have to learn French, unless your moving to France or already doing business with them?

  4. Let’s see. Latvians should know an extra language so as to be more competitive in the employment market. Slesers goes on to say that,”tourism and the transit business multilingualism is an important skill”. Really? Come on? You must be kidding? “Forcing employers to take on workers who know just one language is not a solution, Slesers suggested.” If I’m not mistaken didn’t the Baltic people learn Russian, German and then after those languages take your pick, Latin, French during Soviet occupation? Are not these languages tought today, including Spanish? Of course that is not the question. The question or problem is that one tries to force supperiority upon the other and in this subject it’s always been that you the Balts and in this case Latvians, will speak and answer to us in Russian. This frame of thought has been in existence from the days of the czar. There is a hypothetical thought that entered my mind some time ago. Has anyone ever thoght that maybe the Latvians are forced to speak Russian because if one wants to start a business then one is to know Russian and if you don’t know the language or don’t care to, your businee could turn for the worse. Why does one have to lower oneself by speaking this foreign language when it’s easier to speak Russian? Do you think that maybe thats why there are so many unemployed Latvians? Do you think that maybe thats why so many are forced to find jobs in different countries? They meet up with different people of different cultures to were finally one culture is erased by the easy method of communication. Just think, no war.

  5. Latvian schools should teach two languages-latvian and english. The whole world speaks english and russian language has no value in todays world. Its time the russinan occupiers learn latvian. A young latvian doctor from the USA could not get a job in hospitals in latvia, because he did not speak russian. Can you believe it?

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