When you think about insecure work, ‘gig economy’ jobs usually spring to mind. But many community interpreters in Aotearoa’s public service are subject to similar exploitative conditions.
Community interpreting is a service for people who do not speak a country’s dominant language. We work across every area of the public sector.
Without us, migrants cannot access public services, and public servants cannot serve.
DIGNITY FOR MIGRANTS
My job is interesting, worthwhile, and rewarding. I help other migrants live more dignified, fulfilling lives.
The role requires an understanding of the history and culture of our clients’ countries, alongside ethical decision-making, and a sensitive approach to dealing with trauma.
We work in stressful, high-stakes situations, interpreting in courts, hospitals, and during immigration interviews.
I have an undergraduate degree in translation, a graduate diploma in interpreting, and a master’s degree in language and culture.
Despite my skills and experience, I still cannot support myself on translation work alone – even after five years in the profession.
I’m entitled to neither sick leave nor holiday pay. Travel expenses often come out of my own pocket. I’m rarely compensated for the time I spend preparing for appointments.
The New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI) has been working to promote a greater awareness of these challenges.
Unfortunately, the body is studiously ‘apolitical’ and made up entirely of volunteers, limiting its ability to make meaningful change.
The Government has done little to help, preferring to outsource its responsibilities to private companies.
In 2017, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) established the Language Assistance Services (LAS) Programme, with the aim of “improving face-to-face and remote interpreting services across the public sector”.
This saw telephone and video interpreting services – previously coordinated by the Department of Internal Affairs – contracted to an Australian provider which set our terms, conditions, and rates of pay from thousands of kilometres away.
Our hourly rates of pay were reduced, and our 15-minute minimum payment was eliminated.
Two years on, the provider was found to have been illegally sold under market value. The Government abruptly moved to a different service provider, with confused interpreters receiving onboarding calls before the change had even been communicated.
The LAS Programme also introduced a requirement for interpreters to receive certification from the National Australian Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) before 2024 to continue working in the public sector.
Although MBIE covers the initial certification cost, interpreters will have to pay for ongoing recertification every three years - a cost that will come out of their own pockets.
SOLIDARITY AND UNDERSTANDING
We want recognition and remuneration for the highly specialised work we do. But how do we get there?
Professional interpreters have been calling on the language service providers contracted by the Government to introduce automatic insurance cover, minimum service charges and protection from last minute cancellation which, at present, means we can be paid nothing if a job is cancelled with 24-hours’ notice.
The PSA has recently launched a pay equity claim for the few interpreters who are effectively employed by Counties Manukau District Health Board.
It’s a great start, but unless the Government recognises us as casual employees, we can’t access union support and the pay increases, minimum wage entitlement and improved conditions that come with it.
This is primarily a call for solidarity and understanding. Please help us fight for improved pay, conditions, and union coverage.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
A recent Government report recommended public consultation to better understand the impact of the current employment model on contractors.
You can make a submission on the report here.
You can also sign our petition for better pay and conditions here.
Nā Agustina Marianacci, freelance English-Spanish translator and interpreter.
Correction: The article published on the PSA website on September 10 2022 originally referred to a interpreter being offered $16 for a one-hour interpreting session. The $16 figure was actually offered for a 20-minute job at a rate of $0.8/minute. The article also incorrectly referred to 'community translators' instead of 'community interpreters.'