UK Interpreters Boycotting Applied Language Solutions Agency: pisspoor rates, mishandling of personal data, and unqualified interpreters

See the following for updates on the situation with interpreters’ contracts in the UK. A petition against outsourcing by the Ministry of Justice to Applied Language Solutions is located here.

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Language interpreters used by four police forces in north-west England are refusing to work for the sub-par agency that won the contract — cut-rate outsourcing once again goes awry….

Row erupts over police interpreters

Thursday 03 February 2011 by Catherine Baksi

Detainees at police stations in four areas of the north-west are at risk of miscarriages of justice due to the police forces’ use of inadequate interpreters, the Gazette has been told.

The Professional Interpreters Alliance (PIA) has been granted permission to begin a judicial review of a decision by police authorities in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria to outsource their interpreting services and enter an exclusive agreement with Applied Language Solutions (ALS).

PIA, which represents the interests of interpreters who are registered with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, alleges in its judicial review claim that commercial agencies such as ALS ‘compromise standards of quality of service by the use of unqualified interpreters’.

ALS denies the claims.

Rob Taberner, police station representative for Bolton firm Fieldings Porter, said that since the new contracts began in August, people who are not properly qualified have been sent to the police station to interpret.

‘They sometimes cannot translate properly and do not understand simple legal terms, which is a fundamental part of their job,’ he said.

Where the police cannot get an agency interpreter before the custody time limit expires, Taberner said he had heard of detainees being charged and sent to court without a proper understanding of why they were there. ‘It’s a farcical situation that could lead to miscarriages of justice,’ said Taberner. ‘They want a professional job done on the cheap.’

Lina Tsui-Cheung, an associate at Manchester firm ABM, said she had noticed a similar decline in standards since the new contracts began in August, and her firm had experienced ‘a lot of difficulties’ under the new arrangement.

‘The agents are of poor competence. It appears to me that what is translated is not always correct, and clients have told me that they are not always able to understand the interpreter, or what they are being asked,’ she said.

An ALS spokeswoman said: ‘The interpreters providing interpreting services to the criminal justice system have grave professional responsibilities. Work allocated to interpreters by Applied Language Solutions is done under the terms of the National Framework Agreement, which details the qualifications required to undertake legal interpreting assignments in the UK.’

She added that it was ‘not true’ that ALS interpreters struggle to understand basic terms.

Ian Kelcey, chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, stressed the importance of properly qualified translators. ‘Accurate interpretation at the police station is absolutely vital to avoid miscarriages of justice,’ he said.

In their acknowledgment of service of the judicial review claim, the police authorities said they had undertaken a ‘rigorous procurement exercise’ before awarding the contracts to ALS, which was ranked highest by the panel.

They said: ‘The central aims of initiating the procurement process were the freeing up of administration resources, matching availability to demand, and control over the budget, without compromising the quality of the interpreters provided.’

The forces said they were satisfied that the interpreters engaged ‘would be provided as and when required and that they would be competent’.

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25 Responses to UK Interpreters Boycotting Applied Language Solutions Agency: pisspoor rates, mishandling of personal data, and unqualified interpreters

  1. Pingback: No Peanuts! and police interpreters « Caroline Devitt's Blog

  2. tankimanki says:

    I’ve done interpreting work for two agencies in Birmingham, UK, which basically work on the same basis. There are a lot of people doing interpreting work in local government bodies, NHS, etc., whose English is very poor. (And both these agencies have contracts with NHS trusts!). To start off with, I didn’t have to do anything to prove my competence in the languages I speak, which I found a bit suspicious. After several jobs I stopped working for them because they set the rates, not you, and they only give interpreters less than 1/3 of what they charge the client (I know because I work part-time in the health sector and book interpreters myself :)). Not to mention the fact that they treat you like an employee and when you say you can’t take a job they have the cheek to ask you “why not? what are you doing?”

  3. I would like to be a sponsor. My languages are Hebrew and French into English, I am a translator, interpreter, court interpreter, simultaneous interpreter. Member of ITI, ATA (accredited French to English), National Union of Journalists, Editorial Freelance Alliance, American Society of Journalists and Authors.

    In my fifty years as a professional translator and interpreter I have seen rates plummet to a level that is now utterly ridiculous. While everyone else is earning more, we are earning less. Public service interpreters and translators are being offered below minimum wage payments, less pay than for unskilled labour. Even conference interpreters, who used to earn very respectable amounts and be offered first-class travel are now being paid the sort of day rate offered to plumbers and carpenters, sometimes even less.

    In the case of translation agencies, the advent of TM means that many agencies will only pay for words that are not “repetitions” or pay less for “fuzzy matches”. This is despite the fact that none of these agencies have provided the software to the translator themselves or contributed to the training! I recently saw a job advertised on ProZ where the agency had the nerve to state that it would only pay for 50% of the word count because the rest were “matches”!
    This has got to stop!

    • Machiavelli says:

      “Even conference interpreters, who used to earn very respectable amounts and be offered first-class travel are now being paid the sort of day rate offered to plumbers and carpenters, sometimes even less”

      So carpenters and plumbers don’t deserve ‘respectable amounts’ of money do they? Carpenters and plumbers are on a par with shelf stackers and dog walkers are they? What utter snobbery. Hearing this sort of talk from an interpreter makes me think that interpreters deserve everything the MoJ gives them with ALS, and I’m an Nrpsi interpreter myself!

      • Dear Machiavelli: In a general way, we agree with the spirit of your comment, though you’ve gone a little beyond fair reasoning in your assumptions. Like it or not, there are differences in pay between professions. The formulation of the sentence is unfortunate, but I’m not sure it’s evidence enough to conclude that the writer believes that “carpenters and plumbers don’t deserve ‘respectable amounts’ of money”? For one thing, a “day rate” is necessarily less than the hourly rate that professional carpenters and plumbers normally command, but the fact of the matter is that both carpenters and plumbers (and here I’m NOT talking about day laborers, who are typically exploited) have probably always earned more than interpreters or translators.

  4. Linda Fitchett says:

    As a member of AIIC, the International Association of Conference interpreters, I fully support your claims. Linguists are not given due recognition for their skills in whichever branch of the profession they work. AIIC has been organised for 50 years and we believe that organising and defending our rights together is the only way forward. Democracy and due process cannot be achieved if all citizens do not have equal rights to understand and express themselves, and fair wages for the service professions who ensure those rights are vital. These are fundamental principles of the European Union, and should be applied.

  5. Penelope Maclachlan says:

    I respect and admire interpreters I’ve met since 1999, when I started working as a Portuguese interpreter. Sadly, though, I would warn linguists against taking up interpreting as a career. Pay rates are deteriorating because of jobs given to unqualified so-called interpreters who will work for a fraction of what a qualified interpreter would accept. Too many people in England just have no respect for languages, and this leads to a contempt for linguists in general and interpreters in particular.

    • Toby Johnson says:

      “Too many people in England just have no respect for languages…”.

      I think the rot truly set in when the last government removed modern foreign languages from the core school curriculum, to be replaced by what is described as “I.T.”

  6. Paula says:

    Instead of claiming that he is going to help the justice system, Mr Gavin Wheeldon should be more transparent and say that the justice system is going to help his big pocket. I have got so many questions to ask him:
    – What does he really know about interpreting and translation? If he did, he should have told the person that wrote the article that “face to face foreign language interpreting” is better know as “face-to-face interpreting”. There is no tendency in the UK to interpreter English into English; therefore it is obvious that when talking about interpreting we are talking about foreign languages.
    – How much is he/ALS going to pay interpreters? I mean “professional interpreters” not those that pose as such via misrepresentation.
    – If there are more than 2000 interpreters in the country and we all decide to register with ALS we need a new assessment. Who is paying for this? Mr. Gavin Wheeldon. For his information, those of us that are qualified have already spent thousands on pounds to obtain official qualifications. What makes him and the MoJ think that we are looking forward to pay for a new assessment to get paid a misery by ALS?
    – How is the MoJ going to control the quality of the service ALS is going to provide?
    This contract can only suit one person – needless to say the name.

    • In response to Paula, who posted some questions, we would like to provide the following information:

      Question 1 – What does he really know about interpreting and translation? If he did, he should have told the person that wrote the article that “face to face foreign language interpreting” is better know as “face-to-face interpreting”. There is no tendency in the UK to interpreter English into English; therefore it is obvious that when talking about interpreting we are talking about foreign languages.

      Answer: Face-to-face foreign language interpreting was used on this occasion to avoid confusion with deaf and deafblind interpreting, which was also being referred to as face-to-face in some forums and within some media articles. Not all journalists are familiar with the subject matter and/or terminology of the language services industry.

      Question 2 – How much is he/ALS going to pay interpreters? I mean “professional interpreters” not those that pose as such via misrepresentation.

      Answer: All payment information is available here http://www.linguistlounge.com/payment-structure. The introduction of a tier system based on qualifications, experience and assessment directly addresses the issue raised by Paula, of interpreters misrepresenting themselves and their capability level in a criminal justice setting.

      Question 3 – If there are more than 2000 interpreters in the country and we all decide to register with ALS we need a new assessment. Who is paying for this? Mr. Gavin Wheeldon. For his information, those of us that are qualified have already spent thousands on pounds to obtain official qualifications. What makes him and the MoJ think that we are looking forward to pay for a new assessment to get paid a misery by ALS?

      Answer: The cost of assessment is being met by interpreters through various payment options. The information regarding payment can be found at http://www.linguistlounge.com

      Question 4 – How is the MoJ going to control the quality of the service ALS is going to provide?

      Answer: Key performance indicators have been put in place by the MoJ and had to be addressed as part of the detailed tender process. These KPIs will be monitored and measure throughout the term of the framework agreement.

      We hope that this clarifies the points that Paula raised in her post.

  7. Interpreter says:

    Please sign this petition:

    Professional interpreters against GB MoJ outsourcing
    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/mojoutsourcing/

  8. Gaby says:

    I think I’ll set up a medical agency. I won’t recruit qualified doctors. I’ll ask people with medical experience (first aid courses etc.) to register and then test them myself to make sure they’re competent. (I’m a conference interpreter with no medical knowledge whatsoever but hey, that’s by the by.) Then I’ll ask for an exclusive contract to supply doctors to the NHS. Think I’ll get it? I think I need a salesman with the gift of the gab to bamboozle a dimwitted minister into agreeing….

    • PolishLady says:

      Can I have an application please!🙂 I have been at a GP once and all he said is “ok” and “paracetamol” do I qualify?
      I think you made a great point!

    • Lithuanian interpreter says:

      Dear Gaby.
      I think you would definitely get the exclusive contract, just remember not to overpay those doctors. I think £5 per hour would suffice.

  9. PolishLady says:

    I used to love my job.. and I still love interpreting..but due to all budget cuts and the way the whole interpreting sector works made me resign from it and change my career path.
    I worked for various agencies and done my qualification nevertheless I was constatnly fighting with lack of professionalism! Finally after about 4 years of working as freelancer who all the time had to explain mistakes of the agency I gave up! It is you face, your name that is facing all this mistakes and why should I be responsible and have to provide explanation to lack of professionalism and poor practices of the agency??
    I join on few agencies and they did not even ask me to undergo any language assessment.. Why do people assume that the fact I can speak fluent English and I am a foreigner I will be a good interpreter?
    Interpreting is more than just converting thought from one language to another.. it is also about overcoming cultural barriers, being precise and expressing emotions and intentions in what we interpret! it drives me mad I was getting the same rate as unqualified Foreigner who just got the “job” of interpreter.. I honestly think that the change have to start from understanding that not every person that speak foreigh language can be and interpreter!
    I have to admit last 6months of a break in interpreting was a good choice.. I was observing this from distance and it ended just the way I anticipated.. if you are pretending to be someone (professional in this case) who you are not..you can not keep it up for too long!
    hopefully it will teach professionals that you either have quality..or maximum profit..you can not have both! and I think it is fair to say that it is not unfair to ask for decent pay for you qualification and professionalism. I would not mind pay extra for experienced hairdresser to do my hair instead of discount price and a cut from a student.. you pay for your expectations!
    I am now slowly coming back in his sector..and I hope I will be able to do what I love and what I.m good at and this way support my family on a decent level!

  10. Lithuanian interpreter says:

    And this is happening at the time when public sector workers, whose pay has been continuously adjusted to inflation, are outraged if their salaries are “frozen” due to recession. Had interpreters asked for increase in their pay? Of course not, though they should have. Will a commercial agency, receiving preferential treatment for the only reason – their plans to treat interpreters like slaves, accordingly bringing down the quality of work in extremely sensitive areas, make any savings? I don’t want to sound like Lenny Henry in one of his comedy shows, but “Is it ’cause I is black?” (most interpreters being mainly of foreign origin in this case)? Having no respect for linguists and thinking that any bilingual person can come from the street straight to the Court and act as an interpreter, beggars belief. To make the long story short, the National Register is now available to all and both the Courts and Police Forces are making good use of it as it is. There are listing officers in Courts and admin officers in Custody Centers and Police Stations who do not find it back breaking to pick up a phone and dial an interpreter. At any rate, they have already made lists of the ones closest to them and only have to search the Register if the closest interpreters are not available. I have self respect and would rather work in a factory and have my tax and insurance paid along with holidays and sick leave than work for £10 before tax which would happen if employed by ALS. I would then know when my days off are and would not have to drop whatever I was doing, like turn off the cooker,leaving half cooked dinner, cancelling a meeting with family or friends and even appointments with a doctor to rush to any place where they require my services. Must I do so? Oh yes, definitely. This is one of the most insecure professions. If you don’t go for whatever reason. somebody else will take your place and you will lose any follow-up bookings. Stressful? Oh, definitely. “Can you be at … Custody in half an hour?” I would be able to if I had a ‘copter at my disposal. And when you arrive there, you get to know that the detained person had been there for some 10 hours already… Could they have called me in good time to prepare myself and make the journey pleasant instead of stressful? What do you think?
    This sort of thing happening in the UK in the 21st Century? (I have in mind the monopoly of ALS). To my mind, it verges on being unlawful and breaching the Human Rights.

  11. Interpreter says:

    Please sign these petitions:

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/8290
    (You can only sign this one if you have an address in the UK.)

    and

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/uk-tribunals_2011/

    Thank you.

  12. Anne Wollenberg is a freelance journalist looking to talk to interpreters about the changes the MoJ is making. She’s interested in knowing how recent changes will affect deaf and deafblind interpreters and service users in particular. If you have info or thoughts to share, please email her on annewollenberg@gmail.com. All replies will be treated in the strictest confidence.

  13. Neil says:

    In response to Applied Language Solutions:

    Despite all of your a various claims, you don’t have enough experienced, qualified interpreters registered with you and you are already getting into a mess with the police forces you have just ‘added’ under the MOJ agreement.

    Let’s face it.. You put in such a stupidly low bid for this deal, and the reason why people don’t want to work with you is because they have more sense.

    Qualified, experienced people don’t work for the peanuts you pay. Have fun trying to find people across the country as you try to keep your contract alive. We are planning a big, big party when it and you go down and we are prepare to wait as long as it takes.

    Is there a special episode of Dragon’s Den for bankrupt former failed participants on skid row? Maybe your boss could be first on the show!

    • JG says:

      Neil. The guy who owned Applied Language was on Dragons Den in 2007 and he said he was going to grow his company and sell it within 5 years… and guess what? he sold it to Capita just before xmas for £7.5 million. Its as if all this was planned all along. We all knew they couldn’t make any money at the price given running this contract (let alone invest in the industry like they said they would at the procurement presentations) and they had been trying to sell themselves to some of the larger interpreting agencies in the UK for months (no one would touch them as they were losing so much money).
      http://www.appliedlanguage.com/about_us/news/capita-acquires-translation-and-interpreting-specialists-applied-language-solutions.aspx

      So… what’s left of the interpreting industry now? one guy’s strategy was to win it at an unsustainable price and then sell his company asap, he gets millions, destroys the industry and all you guys get nothing. Doesn’t seem right to me. The MoJ might as well of had a raffle.

      Make sure you talk to your MP about this.

      Good luck with everything.
      Josh

  14. Yelena says:

    Nearly 60% of registered public service interpreters have signed the list against ALS and MoJ agreement to date. You can see the statistics here:

    http://goo.gl/q9WHM

  15. MA Cook says:

    ALS pay the highest professionally qualified £22 an hour – next lowest rate is £20, then £16 – ie, typists earn more, so stuff it, as you say in English! This government also outsource all translation work to Indian Agencies, who do a quick ‘google translate’ , then post it on TC or PZ as a ‘proofreading’ job at something like $0.02 USD /word. The mistakes in such documents are already having an impact on e.g. EU medical/safety work, and it wouldnt greatly surprise me if the PIPS implant scare didnt have an unqualfied translator at the bottom of it.
    Police stations are also very hostile to ‘foreigners’ – if you are translating for a Polish criminal, they kinda assume you aren’t much better yourself, and/or are ‘tipping off your fellow countrymen’ about what not to say! You are earning less per hour than even a constable in many cases, yet they couldn’t do their job without you.

No Peanuts! doesn't pretend to be a representative democracy. We don't publish comments that denigrate our movement, attack our writers, or show disrespect for translators. All comments must be signed with first/last name and include a verifiable email address.

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