Sep 182016

Reblogged from Patenttranslator’s blog

We Have the Best Translators in the World – At Least 5,000 of Them!

by patenttranslator

Most people know that if they want something done really well, they have to hire the best people available at the price they demand and then let these people work their magic. Yet, for some reason, this simple truth is not exactly what “the translation industry” is saying in its marketing propaganda on translation agency websites. Of course, these agencies nowadays prefer to call themselves “LSPs” (Language Services Providers, often called Lame Service Providers by translators), as if “agency” were a dirty word, or possibly because they have themselves made it a dirty word.

If you take a look at a few translation agency websites, large and small (although typically large), just about everything else is more important judging from their marketing material than whether the best person will be hired for the job and whether the translator will be given enough freedom and sufficient time to do the job well.

“We Have the Best Translators in the World, _5,000 to 12,000 of Them”

In passing, usually in a single sentence, translation agencies claim on their websites that they, “have the best translators”. But almost none of them will let you see exactly who these excellent translators are and what kind of education and experience they have.

A law firm allows potential clients who visit its website to browse a database of lawyers specializing in different fields and a description of their education and experience is included as well as their e-mail address and telephone number. How else can clients make up their minds about the qualifications and suitability of the person who is to be entrusted with an important legal case? Potential clients want to know who they are hiring.

Clients who need to hire a translator through the intermediary of a translation agency, however, are almost always hiring a pig in a poke.

Translation agencies don’t really have any “translators”, let alone 5,000 of them as one website boasts. All they have is a list (database) of freelance translators. Yet they love to brag so much about the number of translators they “have” these days that they now claim on their websites that they “have thousands of translators”, generally 5,000 to 12,000 translators, where the numbers are specified.

Are there actually 5,000 really competent translators in the world? The total number is probably much, much smaller for just about any given field and language combination.

If a translation agency actually does have, say, 5,000 translators in its database, what does that really mean? How can anybody in that agency possibly know which of those 5,000 translators are really good in a given field and language combination? A project manager might know and understand the strengths and weaknesses of a few dozen of the translators the agency uses regularly, but is it possible to know something like that about such enormous numbers of translators?

If I were a customer, a boast by an agency about the large number of translators it uses would be a serious disincentive for me to hire this agency since it would signify that the agency is simply creating or purchasing databases (they go for about a hundred bucks) containing the highest number of warm bodies in them so that the cheapest of them (as opposed to the best!) could be matched with a job to generate maximum profit for the agency.

The truth is that translation agencies are determined to prevent potential customers contacting translators directly at all costs! If they were allowed to do so, they might realise that the majority of agencies, and especially the big agencies, are only middlemen who, instead of adding value to the translation, mostly just add significantly to the cost.

All of Our Excellent, 5,000 Translators Are Now Our Slaves

I have many contracts in my files with translation agencies that I signed without hesitation some 20 or even 30 years ago. They were usually one to two pages long, 300 to 500 words, and the emphasis was placed mostly on the translator’s duty to maintain confidentiality. Most translation agencies never asked me to sign anything at all, it was only if their client insisted on a confidentiality agreement that one was required to be signed.

Recently, a translator published a contract on Facebook that had been sent to her by an agency who required her to sign it that was 19 pages and almost 11,000 words long. Of course, if you really do have 5,000 translators in your files, you will have no idea which ones are good and which ones are terrible. So you need a contract containing many get-out clauses so that you can refuse to pay the translator should the end-client refuse to pay you – the middleman – since you have no way of telling whether a translation is good or bad since you don’t speak the language and don’t know much about translation.

Instead of trying to find the best possible person for the job at hand and cultivating a lasting relationship with the best translators, many translation agencies now seem to go out of their way to make sure that the most insecure and least experienced translators. They look for the cheapest they can find on the websites that offer translation work and this is what they give their clients. Sometimes they exert a measure of “quality control” by getting the translations “proofread” (i.e. edited, agencies do not know the difference). Sometimes the proofreader introduces a few more mistakes!

The Difference Between Employees Three Decades Ago and “Independent Contractors” Today

These long contracts that de facto turn freelancers who are ostensibly “independent translators” into virtual wage slaves without any of the benefits of full-time employment can also lead to some unintended consequences for the agency.Contracts of employment for full-time staff usually spell out the benefits that employees are afforded, while contracts with freelance translators are replete with obligations, and devoid of rights.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service lists on its website 20 conditions that distinguish independent contractors from employees the most important one being the degree of independence that contractors are afforded, in contrast to employees, who must obey all the rules and regulations of their employer lest they be fired.

What a difference there is between contracts that were signed between employees more than 30 years ago in America, and the contracts that translation agencies are trying to force translators to sign these days, in the USA and throughout the world.

On the one hand, since translators are officially called independent contractors, they have no benefits such as paid leave, Christmas bonuses, etc.

All that an independent contractor can expect is to be paid for his/her services and rarely on time. There is European legislation that has been written into the laws of the countries (including the UK) that payments to sub-contractors must be made in thirty days. The agencies that actually pay within thirty days are rarer than hens teeth. Many impose terms of 90 days on their sub-contracted translators. Even then, the payment may be reduced by factors such as “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”, i.e. non-payment or partial payment for repeated words, which is a scheme that can best be described as theft. And you can bet the end-client gets none of the benefit from the reduction in cost to the agency.

The remainder of the contract between a translator and a translation agency generally specifies a large number of duties for the translator, some of them quite onerous. For example, the translator, although supposed to be an independent contractor, may be forced to submit invoices by using a labyrinthine interface of an agency’s byzantine accounting system; Depending on the agency, he/she may be prevented from using machine translation in any way, shape or form (as a potential breach of security), or on the contrary, forced to use machine translation if this leads to a greater profit for the agency. The translator may also be forced to use a specific CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tool which is particularly conducive to extracting maximum profit from translators by way of the highly lucrative wage theft scheme of deducting money for repeated words as described above.

Many of the clauses in these contracts, including the “non-competition clause”, would be illegal under most jurisdictions and they strip any semblance of independence from nominally “independent contractors”. The United Kingdom even has a Law of Unfair Contracts, but no translator has ever sued an agency under this law as the cost would be prohibitive.

I wonder whether the lawyers, who must be paid handsomely for drawing up these contracts, ever ask themselves the following question:

If more than 50% of the clauses in a contract with a nominally “an independent contractor” is in breach of IRS and/or Inland Revenue (HMRC) rules and regulations that define employees and contractors, how is an agency going to defend itself in court against the claim that it has 50,000 employees, instead of only, say, four in-house, tax-paying employees?

At the very least, all the translators who signed such a contract and worked for the agency, even on a single translation, would likely appear to the tax authorities as employees from whom taxes should have been collected and sent to the country’s treasury department. Failure to do so could result in stiff penalties.

The same applies to VAT. There are literally hosts of translation agencies who are really located all over the world but who buy a local phone number and accommodation address in the United States and the United Kingdom and pretend to be headquartered there. Do they pay tax to the State Board of Equalisation in the USA or Value Added Tax in the United Kingdom? No, they do not, and yet they appear to remain unpunished.They have all the benefits of a UK or US address but none of the expenses of paying council tax, income tax or VAT.