Some 184 staff at Thermal Ceramics, in Saint-Marcellin-en-Forez, in the Loire Valley, are staging walkouts every day.
“We say ‘hello’ in French but then communication stops,” said workers’ representative Thierry Juvin, adding that “every meeting is an ordeal.”
He said workers at the factory, which makes ceramic fibre insulation, wanted to discuss wage rises and improved working conditions, but it was proving impossible.
“We have to have someone who translates everything into English, and then anything our English boss says has to be translated into French.
“This makes dialogue extremely slow, if not impossible.”
Mr Juvin said three walkouts had been held on most days since English-speaking bosses began managing them earlier this year.
“Our former director left in January and his replacement is an acting director abroad,” said Mr Juvin. “He is English and does not speak any French. So we cannot communicate with him.” Mr Juvin said staff at Saint-Marcellin-en-Forez, most of whom belong to France’s CGT trade union, had previously not gone on strike for more than two decades.
“We haven’t withdrawn our labour for twenty three years,” said Mr Juvin. “Maybe this is because we could speak to our bosses.”
Pierrick Dumont, CGT representative to the factory, said: “I don’t think it’s up to us to make the effort to speak English. We’re French workers based in France.”
Diane Gaillot, CEO of Thermal Ceramics in France, said: “The problem is that the former director had a unique opportunity to go abroad and we have not had time to recruit a new director.”
She added that the situation was temporary and they were currently looking for another director who will speak French.
Miss Gaillot said the company had four sites across France, but the one in Saint-Marcellin-en-Forez, which is not far from Lyon, was the only one suffering industrial action. She added that a meeting about the problems was due to be held in Paris on Thursday.
France has a notoriously nationalistic workforce, with staff frequently complaining about the growing anglicisation of working practices within the global economy.
This encompasses everything from English being used as the exclusive language of business to reduced lunch breaks.
Thermal Ceramics is a division of the British Morgan Crucible Company, which was founded in London in 1856 and has since expanded all over the world.