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Interpreter Price Wars

When an agency tells you to drop your fees what do you do?
Did you start your bid so low anyway because you devalued yourself and along with it the whole interpreting profession?
Did the agency to whom you gave a quote tell you they got someone for a lot less than that last week? Did they say they had a limited budget?
Worst still, did you really believe them?
Agencies are businesses. Many of whom do not care about deaf people or the interpreting profession. Many of them have been telling interpreters anything they can to get you to accept that job. ‘oh it’ll be easy’, ‘there will be lots of breaks’, ‘I’ll send prep’. Do these sound familiar?
Over the last year or so, it seems this has been extended to fees. So why believe them? Some budgets are less, I accept that. There are other jobs flying around with a stated limit on what the agency will pay. In many cases these particular assignments are from a sub-contract. The person paying the bill is not paying less but there are now two middle men and both want to squeeze you, the actual service provider, for profit.
So let me now ask you these questions:
Do you still want there to be an interpreting profession in five years time? No, let’s make that two.
Did you spend money, years gaining your registration status, blood, sweat and tears? Did you forget to factor that in?
Did you forget CPD? The time spent developing yourself, the cost and time needed to attend courses, events, buy books, keep up with Deaf and interpreting community news? Did you forget to factor that into your annual expenses?
Did you forget you needed to earn enough to pay for your interpreter registration, travel, phone, insurance, Internet, website, business cards, car insurance and motoring expenses, accountant, holiday and sick pay, professional association membership? Maybe you’re not a member of one… Because you have failed to get it. Or maybe no-one told you.
You’re supposed to be a part of a professional community of sign language interpreters.
Let me tell you in black and white exactly how it is.
You are an interpreter. If it wasn’t for you, the agency that demands such a reduction in fees, would not exist.
We are a profession that needs protection. We do not have this officially by way of a royal charter or otherwise so we MUST protect ourselves.
If you do not behave in a business-like manner, befitting of someone who is a specialist and well-trained then you do not deserve to be a part of a profession that you are colluding to destroy.
If you do not know how to be that professional please do take time to go back to the start of this post and reread. Talk to an interpreter who has been qualified for at least seven years. Join a professional association. One with proper meetings and a good support network. And please if you do not yet have one, grow a back bone. I mean not to be insulting but believe me, in this financial climate I tell you for your own protection. And to protect us all.

  1. All good points. It is becoming increasingly difficult to challenge the plethora of agencies trying to book at prices amounting to peanuts. And I agree the No Peanuts movement from our spoken language colleagues is a good one. I also think that those of us with a few years under our belts and have the benefit of experience to help weather the current financial climate, are also coming under pressure from newly qualified interpreters who are just happy to be offered any work and will grab any job going at any price. Whether or not it’s suitable for them. I was talking recently to a Deaf friend of mine who was whinging about the quality of newbie interpreters that he had to put up with. My view was that when I first entered the profession it was definitely Deaf led. It was drummed into me that any of my actions were to be for the benefit of the Deaf consumer. I’m not sure that that is the sole motive of the modern interpreter. For instance: In the climate of generic booking agencies only booking the cheapest interpreter there is a local authority who have set a fixed minimum fee for all jobs. They do not differentiate between a housing meeting and a mental health assessment. The same bunch of interpreters who are prepared to work for peanuts at the housing meeting, also work for peanuts at the MH assessment. The booking clerks have no knowledge or interest in the clients they are booking for or the skills of the interpreters they are booking.
    Deaf led? Whats that?

    • Deaf led? Sums up Cokely’s recent post.
      Self-regulation used to come from Deaf people and other interpreters. You wouldn’t dare to do a job others thought you weren’t ready for yet.
      But that was when everyone knew everyone. Safety of the Deaf person alongside protection of your reputation was paramount. Our community has become dissipated.
      Until we have additional qualifications, tests or standards for MH/Legal etc… we don’t have those safeguards to stop those who do not think in the same way. A yellow RSLI badge does not mean hurtle round Brands Hatch, it means stick your P plates on and take it easy for a while.
      I don’t think it’s all down to the fault of the ‘newbie’. I blame a system that hasn’t taught them not to do those jobs, I blame a system without those extra safeguards, I blame profit-focused agencies who do not care about quality.
      It’s like watching a car crash…

      • I would like to see a blog post on the actualities of interpreter salaries rather than the myth that all sign language interpreters earn £80k a year. Weekly average earnings once you’ve take. Off travel, NI and tax. On the surface it looks like everyone is getting a sweet deal but I’m seeing a lot of interpreters absorb the filtered down costs of the recession. Clients are paying too much to go through unethical agencies rather than booking directly or using BSL beam.

    • I think we were up there. We are in danger of going backwards unless we fight harder. We have fought for years to get where we are and no-one wants to go backwards in terms of access for Deaf people, standards, pay, respect for the profession.
      Good luck to all in the Philippines in getting the respect you deserve and pushing the interpreting profession forward there.

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