Is it easy to get customer service job in Rīga without knowing Russian?

Although for several years employers in Latvia have not been permitted to ask employees for the knowledge of a foreign language without a specific justification, an experiment conducted August 4 by Latvian Radio found that it was hard to get a job, especially a customer service job, in Rīga without knowing the Russian language.  

Līva Zelma Purviņa is a communication science student who has agreed to Latvian Radio's experiment. She speaks English freely and Russian at the conversational level. During the experiment, she does not specify the language knowledge on her CV. She goes to search for work in sectors such as sales, catering, assisting and public administration.

Some job advertisements indicate at once the need for the Russian language, but rather often an indirect remark is observed, that it would be 'desirable' or 'an advantage'.

The first company was the fuel station Circle K, for which the ad mentioned nothing about language skills.  On the telephone call, Līva Zelma said that she did not really have the knowledge of Russian. She got a response that if she were prepared to learn it at the conversational level, there would be no problem to get the job.

The next call was received from the mobile operator Tele2. Līva Zelma applied to the customer service center at the Origo mall. The advertisement indicated that good Latvian and foreign language skills were needed.

In the telephone conversation, the company stated that not knowing Russian was not an obstacle as such: “The main thing is the desire to learn, and not to shy away from speaking... But of course, the mall Origo is the mall where Russian is needed a lot.” At the end of the conversation, the young woman was invited to the next round – a video interview.

Līva Zelma also sent a CV to the Vapiano restaurant located at the mall in Origo. Although the advertisement also claims the need for Russian knowledge, during the interview the company's representative said that the main languages are Latvian and English.

Meanwhile, a remote sales specialist vacancy by insurance company Balta had indicated the desirable knowledge of Latvian and Russian. In the phone conversation, Līva Zelma was assessed as a suitable candidate by the representative, but when mentioned the lack of Russian skills, she said: “Yes, this will be difficult, because in a video interview one of the questions, we foresee answering in Russian … So I doubt that within a few days it could be answered freely. Then I guess I'll have to reject."

Līva Zelma also applied for the vacancy of partner operations coordinator at the food delivery service provider “Bolt Food”. “The Russian language will, unfortunately, be a minus in this case because we need it,” a company spokeswoman said. Later, Bolt sent an email that Līva Zelma's candidacy would not be further advanced.

The final job in the experiment was a shop assistant at Denim Dream. “The Russian language is very important, we have 80% Russian-speaking customers,” the company representative said. The employee is not allowed to tell a customer that they do not understand Russian.

The State Labor Inspectorate recalled that for four years now the employer cannot, without any specific justification, request the knowledge of certain foreign languages, most commonly Russian. It is permitted only if it is otherwise impossible to carry out work duties. Such a rule has been adopted with a view to reducing discrimination against non-Russian workers in the Latvian labour market.

“The employees have the right to report to the Labor Inspectorate, which will then also carry out an inspection accordingly, and the examination will require the employer to provide a justification for making such a requirement. (...) As a legitimate foreign language requirement, for example, there could be professions involving foreign tourist services or foreign partner cooperation processes and the like,” explained Laura Akmentiņa, a representative of the State Labor Inspectorate.

In order to minimize future misunderstandings, the Inspectorate considers the possibility of encouraging amendments to the Labor Law, so that the employer is already required to provide a short justification for the need for foreign language skills in the advertisement.

On the other hand, the State Employment Agency (NVA) said that only 3% of vacancies registered in the Agency requested Russian language. 

This year the NVA no longer provides Russian-language courses for the unemployed. Last year, more than 200 people took them. Such a decision has been taken by a commission established by the Ministry of Welfare. “We have limited financial resources available and we need to move some more funding towards Latvian, given that Ukrainian civilians are now registering with us in the NVA and engaging in Latvian language learning.”

This year nearly a thousand clients have started learning the official language. State Employment Agency still provides for the acquisition of a variety of skills, including Russian, at the individual request of the employer.

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