In the context of freelance translation—and most translators and interpreters the world over are freelancers—the concept of “a living wage” sounds to some people like a wrong note. Several Peanutistas have written to tell us so.
Here’s why we think it’s the perfect phrase and the perfect philosophy.
First, let’s start with the dictionary. The American Heritage Dictionary tells us that a wage is the “payment for labor or services to a worker, especially remuneration on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis or by the piece” (our emphasis) and the OED defines wage, simply, as “a payment to a person for service rendered,” adding that a “living wage” is the “wage on which it is possible for a worker to live.”
There’s no question that “wages,” in contemporary English, is often used in the sense of a fixed “hourly wage” or “monthly salary” and is generally intended to underscore a difference between so-called salaried employees (managers, e.g., who receive an annual salary regardless of how many hours they work and are “exempt” from overtime pay or weekly work limits) and non-managerial workers paid on an hourly basis.
In the United States and other countries, the “living wage” is often tied to the concept of the “minimum wage” (the lowest hourly, daily, or monthly wage that employers may legally pay to workers), which may be set at a national or more local level.
Organizations such as the Living Wage Coalition active in many states and counties in the U.S. (see, e.g., the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition) or Britain’s Living Wage Campaign and awards (“The Mark of Fair Employment”), meanwhile, are dedicated to ensuring that “all employees are paid enough to support themselves and their family.”
Interestingly, the Living Wage Campaign defines a “living wage employer” as one who “ensures that all employees including agency and contracted staff are paid at least the Living Wage…” (our emphasis).
As the Living Wage Coalition puts it, the living-wage movement “is a grassroots movement … fighting for economic justice.” Another way to talk about economic justice, if you like a more trendy term, is economic sustainability.
For the No Peanuts! Movement, though, the key word in all these definitions and philosophies is “worker.” We think it’s essential for translators and interpreters to understand that we are workers, first and foremost, and to recognize that the struggle to make ends meet and to be paid decently for our labor is something we have in common with working people the world over.
Like all people who work for a living, we need to be able to support ourselves and our families with what we do. Like all of them, we face the problem of downward pressure on our earnings. We, too, are “piece workers.” We, too, find it impossible to make ends meet on low pay—and it’s a simple (if depressing) matter to convert our lines, words, or cartelle into the equivalent of an hourly wage that simply isn’t livable. (Seasonal agricultural workers in the West, for example, typically earn the equivalent of about $25-$50 a day—which is about what you’d earn if you translated 2000 words a day at €0.01/$0.02 per word; they can’t live on it and neither can we.)
The kinds of contracts we sign or the details of how we get paid don’t matter much in the boat we’re all trying to keep afloat. What is important in the term “living wage”—what truly binds us together—isn’t wage. It’s living.
The basic philosophy of No Peanuts! is exactly that: The work translators and interpreters do is valuable, and we deserve to earn a living from it. Whether we call it a living wage, a living salary, a living per-word rate, a living fee, a living income, a living paycheck, a living price, a living tariff, or a living compensation for services rendered is a secondary point.
We deserve to earn a living. Period.