The Quebec government has backtracked on a decision to cut funding to a program that helped workers learn French at Peerless Clothing in Montreal.
The program has often been touted as exemplary and Mario Ayala, the director of the clothing division at Peerless, was discouraged to hear it would disappear as Quebec moves to centralize its French courses.
"The program that we have started 20 years ago, we cannot just let it go like that," he said. "It's something that helps people."
"We have our own way that is working," Ayala said.
The decision to cut subsidies to the program was first published in Le Devoir Tuesday morning. By afternoon, Labour Minister Jean Boulet took to Twitter to say the decision was being reversed.
Ayala went through Peerless Clothing's francisation program himself and says the goal is to make French the common language in the workplace — but its impact is much broader.
"Since I became a French-speaker I see things changing for me. We have so many immigrants here, so many nationalities here, and many of them don't know the language so they need a language to communicate," he said.
The Peerless Clothing program was put on hold during the pandemic, but with workplace activities back to normal, the company wanted to revive it.
In July, Ayala says he was told there would be no funding since the former government francisation program is being scrapped to be replaced with Francisation Québec under Bill 96.
The new program is set to come into effect in June 2023, and Boulet said Tuesday the Immigration Ministry would continue to subsidize Peerless Clothing's program until then. After that, the future of Peerless's francisation program is uncertain, said Ayala.
Some are optimistic about the new approach, however.
The province's largest employers' group, the Conseil du patronat du Québec (CPQ), hopes the new Francisation Québec program will mean less red tape for employers.
Denis Hamel, vice-president of workforce policy development for the CPQ, said there are good programs and subsidies available but many employers don't know how to get them and too many ministries have their hands in the basket.
"It's very hard for employers to get along with all the bureaucracy, so hopefully with Francisation Québec this problem will be solved in the near future."
Learning French during working hours
Hamel believes employers are willing to promote French in the workplace but they need support. He stresses the best way to teach French is in the workplace during working hours.
"It's less academic French and it's more adapted to the situation," he said.
"You cannot expect either an immigrant or a Canadian-born person to follow courses in the evening or on a Saturday morning above all the duties we have in our lives."
Kim Nguyen, a seamstress at Peerless Clothing who participated in the company's French classes, echoes the sentiment. She said the program taught her conversational French that allowed her to better communicate with other employees and her boss.
"It helps a lot. I understand really well here in the workplace but outside, too. I can help my family and my kids at school or at the hospital," said Nguyen.
"It's better for us to learn here at work. After work, we can stay a couple of hours to take the course and it's easy. It's harder to take courses outside of work and start somewhere else."
The Education Ministry said in a news release it would continue francisation efforts in the workplace.
"The basket of services will be improved so diversified services make it possible to find solutions to the different needs of workers and businesses," it said.