Sep 20, 2016 / by Katharine Allen
From CBC News Ottawa...
Article Excerpt: Professional interpreters are urging the federal government to scrap an automated system for hiring freelancers, arguing that doling out jobs to the lowest bidder could further erode the Translation Bureau's ability to fulfill the requirements of the Official Languages Act.
The Act requires French and English spoken translation for a range of government activities, from sessions of Parliament to Supreme Court hearings to government conferences.
Public Services and Procurement Canada is preparing to launch the new procurement system for awarding contracts to freelance interpreters, who now perform 60 per cent of the government's spoken translation work, according to their association.
Link to the full article here.
Disruption is in the news. In a move that has been brewing for several years, the Canadian government is succumbing to pressure to lower the cost of procuring interpreting services mandated by Canada's Official Languages Act. This is yet another sign that downward pressure on interpreting fees is impacting conference interpreting, which has traditionally been a more stable sector of our profession.
In many nations, conference interpreting has enjoyed relative security due to legal mandates and government funding of interpreting and translation bureaus. Interpreters, through organizations such as the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), have been successful in negotiating quality workplace standards and professional fees that outstrip all other interpreting specializations.
Now, various factors are threatening those gains. Increasingly, governments, even in nations with heavy government subsidies for public services, are feeling the pressure to privatize and cut costs. This is the case in Canada, where the current system for procuring interpreters is labor intensive and expensive. The Canadian Government currently negotiates every interpreting assignment with the individual interpreter, rather than through a professional association or other platform.
Governments are also being tempted by the mostly false yet alluring promise of an easy technological fix for a complex process. In so doing, they often prioritize the lowest cost option without giving priority to what matters most--an interpreter's qualifications and ability to do the job professionally.
Finally, interpreters are frequently hampered by the very nature of the profession, which is largely made up of freelancers. This makes it much harder for the individual interpreter to leverage any influence over a process that will have far-reaching consequences for their professional practice.
The pressure on government agencies to find ways to increase efficiency and stretch public budgets is likely to continue. Forcing individual interpreters to bid against each other in what appears to amount to a reverse auction may achieve cost savings in the short term, but it will undermine Canada's ability to provide professional interpreting services in the long term. Large entities seeking to streamline inefficient interpreter hiring processes would do well to focus on eliminating the inefficiencies while ensuring that interpreters are still compensated fairly.