The second London demonstration against the MoJ’s framework agreement for interpreters and translation was on 16th April. A mini-flurry of texts just before I arrived at Petty France outside the Ministry of Justice heralded the arrival of another six Sign Language interpreters (SLIs), a Lip Speaker and a big squeaky horn.
We shouted along with the 400 or so other interpreters gathered for about an hour or so. We then moved along the street to Westminster outside the Houses of Parliament to shout some more, wave placards and pass around the squeaky horn. There was an impressive array of MPs who came to speak to us and offer support. Last time one, Andy Slaughter (a long time supporter of the abolition of this contract, and now seven MPs. Most reported that their constituents had been approaching them with worrying stories of miscommunication at hearings and trials.
A couple of us networked furiously letting people know there were Sign Language Interpreters in their midst and there were some of us who were also boycotting the contract. We all shared information about what we had seen and experienced whether we were employed to use sign or any number of spoken languages. Regardless, everyone had a terrible story to tell of interpreters with no CRB checks, use of Google Translate, the general erosion of standards. It is quite odd to find people you have been emailing, tweeting and facebooking, to eventually meet them face-to-face. Strange how gratifying it is to meet for the first time, to congratulate each other on the work we have been doing, to swap hugs and handshakes like you’ve known each other for years, united with the same belief that this contract is fundamentally wrong.
Amongst all the camaderie there was a definite low point. There was absolute shame when I found out the majority of lip speakers via the Association of Lip Speakers are refusing to work under the contract. There are apparently only a couple of lip speakers ruining the boycott for the rest and the Deaf people who use them. Were it a 100% refusal to work under the framework agreement it would certainly strengthen the case. That clearly goes for Sign Language Interpreters too. Were there to be a blanket ban by us all by not working in courts and the police authorities who have signed up, for something so detrimental to our communities the contract would never have lasted this long. Three months in and we are only just hearing the real effects of the contract for Deaf people and I am sure it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Later, there was a meeting after the demo with lawyers supporting the ban which was attended mostly by spoken language interpreters and two SLIs regarding a Judicial Review. The two of us worked hard to network and dispel some myths about SLIs. Although this contract seems better for us, it really is only a matter of time until our terms and conditions are eroded further. I say further as it has already happened. A slippery slope does not take long to get down and the effects will be felt by more SLIs sooner rather than later.
More worryingly it is not our T&C’s we should be most concerned about but the inevitable erosion of standards. Reports I have been receiving over the last few weeks only add to the examples with the most surprising received today. I had been wondering how long I would maintain this blog. It seems I will have to be here a while yet, there is more to be told and there will definitely be more to come.