This week’s international news in brief

Language moves east

German and Russian are moving up the league table when it comes to learning a second language in Europe, reflecting the EU’s eastward expansion, according to a European Commission survey. However, within the EU, English still remains the favourite second language. The survey found that half of EU citizens can communicate in at least one language other than their mother tongue, with a third speaking English. German was listed as a second language for 12% of respondents, while 11% said French was their second language. Russian now ties with Spanish for fourth place according to the Eurobarometer ranking of the EU’s most widely spoken foreign languages.

Ignoring mental health at work

Few Canadian employers are prepared to deal with increasing staff mental health claims, according to new research. Claims related to stress, depression and anxiety were the leading health and productivity-related concern for 56% of respondents, according to a Watson Wyatt survey of HR professionals from almost 100 organisations. Only 36% of companies track the reasons behind long-term disability claims, leaving most unable to identify potential problems before they occur. Barely a third intend to implement schemes to address mental health claims over the next two years, and only 5% have a plan to deal with the associated stigma, which keeps sufferers from coming forward and prevents firms from acting.

Jobseekers’ criminal pasts

A US study has revealed that 8.4% of all job applicants have a criminal record, highlighting the need for more thorough background checks when hiring. The food service industry leads the way with 12.4% of jobseekers having criminal convictions. Retail was second highest with 11.7%, while the finance and healthcare had the lowest, with 6%. The much-maligned car salesman was ranked eighth out of 11 industries, with 8.4%. The study, carried out by InfoLink Screening Services, was based on all background checks in the US last year. Even when applicants were told of, and authorised, the background investigations, many were shown to have had convictions for crimes including assault with firearms, forgery, sexual abuse and theft.

Retailer accused of bribing staff

German retail chain Plus Discount is encouraging its staff in the Czech Republic to leave trade unions, it has been alleged. Officials from the Workers in Retail Trade Union (Ospo) claim that members are being bribed to quit their jobs. Ospo chairman, Alexandr Leiner, said: “The company is offering existing unionists at its stores hundreds of thousands of crowns if they leave. [They are] promising to raise their monthly salaries by as much as 2,000 crowns (£46) if they will at least stop being union members.” The situation deteriorated earlier this year when the existing head of the chain in the Czech Republic, a Czech national, was replaced by Andr Riennensland from Germany. Plus Discount strongly denies the allegations.

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