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Interpreters in Finland to hold work stoppage to protest price-based tenders

Hanna / 17.11.2021

Interpreters in Finland will stop work for three minutes at 10.20 on Thursday 25 November 2021. They will do so in protest at poor working conditions and public-sector tenders based almost entirely on price criteria. 

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The interpreters’ work stoppage on 25 November will be significant in its reach, uniting all kinds of interpreters, both employees and the self-employed. This is the first such joint protest to bring together all interpreters. Spoken language, sign language, speech impairment and speech-to-text interpreters will join the protest. 

 Interpreters are protesting to highlight the following grievances: 

  • The public sector tenders interpreting services almost entirely based on price. Even though quality criteria for the service may be included in tenders, they are set so low as to have no practical significance. Further, the quality component in tendering decisions is minuscule. This has led to companies competing recklessly on price. Interpreters’ earnings are already so low that it is not worthwhile for professional to stay or develop in their work. Interpreters demand the public sector bears its social responsibility when tendering its services.  
  • An interpreter is essential in situations where the parties lack a common language, which is why a trained professional must always be used. That is not the situation at present; anyone at all is allowed to interpret. The law does not give a definition of professional public service interpreter. There is a register of court interpreters, but using it is not mandatory.  
  • In practice, spoken language interpreters have their employment and contractual terms dictated to them. A spring 2021 survey by Language Experts (Kieliasiantuntijat) of spoken language interpreters’ income found that around half of the respondents were unable to negotiate to influence their income level or contractual terms. All companies in the interpreting sector should genuinely negotiate with their employees and service providers on working conditions. 

During the work stoppage, interpreters will stop interpreting and read the interpreters’ shared demands out loud. 

The work stoppage is primarily targeted at municipalities, hospital districts and other state organizations for which interpreters provide services. With current contracts expiring in 2022, almost all such organizations will be tendering interpreting services in the near future. How these tenders are conducted will have a significant impact on the future of the interpreting profession. 

Spoken language interpreters also demand a level playing field for negotiations between interpreters and language service providers. The work stoppage is a strong message from interpreters: they are fed up with contractual terms being dictated to them. Interpreters have seen their position on the labour market weaken continually over a very long period. Many interpreters feel powerless against agencies. Individual interpreters have limited influence over their own contractual terms. Sign language, speech impairment and speech-to-text interpreters support these claims for improved contractual terms. 

The work stoppage is supported by Language Experts (Kieliasiantuntijat), the professional association for language professionals in Finland, and its parent trade union Akava Special Branches (Akavan Erityisalat).