A real head-scratcher in the Montreal Gazette: telephone staff at the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (the Quebec health insurance board) are now required to assess callers’ language skills to determine if they actually require service in English.
Where before callers were given the option of service in English or French by way of a simple touch of the telephone keypad, it has now become more complicated. Now some people who would prefer to have the information given in English could be denied the service on the basis of a subjective judgment of their ability to speak French.
The way it works now is that calls to RAMQ are answered automatically in French, and callers are told that the agency first communicates with its clientele in French. Only after half a minute of silence is it mentioned that service in English is available by pressing 9. But wait: that doesn’t automatically get you service in English.
What it gets you is another recorded message, this time in English, informing you once more that the board prefers to deal with customers in French. The agents who subsequently come on the line do not speak English right away, even though the language of service chosen is English. No, the agents proceed in French, and are then required by the new policy to “use their judgment” to determine whether the caller speaks French well enough to be able to hold a conversation about health in French rather than English. Only if the caller fails that test will service in English be forthcoming.