Manon Henrie-Cadieux, who manages Ottawa's French services, said about 30 per cent of the city's employees can already work in both official languages. ((CBC))

Ottawa's goal of offering bilingual services means hundreds of employeesmust learn French, the manager of the city's French-language services says.

About 20 per cent of the city's 17,000 positions will be officially designated bilingual in a matter of weeks, said Manon Henrie-Cadieux, adding that employees already in those positions must soon prove they can read, write and speak both in English and in French.

Thosewhocan'twill be offered the chance to take language classes funded by the city on work time for as long as they need to, Henrie-Cadieux added.

Only 35 managerial positions are currently designated bilingual at the city even though the 2001 census found16 per cent of Ottawa's population lists French as their first language.

Henri-Cadieux said about 600 to 900 employees already take part in about three sessions a year of four-hour-a-week language classes, and she does not think any funding will be needed for classes as a result of the new designation.

About 30 per cent already bilingual

"We believe that largely our workforce is bilingual," she said, citing a 2002 survey that found 30 per cent of employees could work in both official languages.

But she added the city does not know how many of those employees will fall within the 4,000 positions with the new bilingual designation.

The new requirement will mostly affect future hirings and target jobs that involve a lot of public interaction, such as bus drivers and front-line customer service.There will be more bilingual positions in neighbourhoods with a higher francophone population, such as Orléans.

Unilingual employees will keep jobs

Henrie-Cadieux emphasized that when city council voted in 2001 to offer services in both official languages, it also passed a motion guaranteeing that no employees would lose their jobs or suffer salary or benefit penalties as a result of the bilingual policy.

"And so that is being kept up as a guiding principle throughout the exercise," she said.

Whenthe city's bilingualism policy was passedshortly after the amalgamation of Ottawa-area municipalities, many councillors from mainly anglophone suburbs and rural areas fiercely opposed it, saying that it would put job seekers from Ottawa'sEnglish-speaking majority at a disadvantage.