Dec 252016

This was the damage caused by a truck that killed four people, including a little girl, because the owners ran a haulage company as cheaply as they could. They did little servicing of their vehicles and knew perfectly well that the brakes on the vehicle were faulty but they allowed a driver to take it out on the road.They have been sentenced to jail terms. This will not bring the victims back and when they get out of prison these same perpetrators will no doubt go back into some sort of business and run it as unethically as they ran this one.

That is the trouble. As has been pointed out, if you act unethically in business and have no moral conscience, you are bound to succeed! It is the slave-owner mentality, the mentality that allows people to ruthlessly exploit other people for their own benefit. We have seen a few examples of this recently, homeless men held prisoner by farmers who make them work for long hours and pay them little or nothing.

The slave-owner mentality is shared by certain government ministers. Seeing the huge rise in the need for public service interpreters due to the influx of foreigners, the government cynically decided to farm out all public service interpreting (police, court, social services, NHS) by offering a large lump sum to an agency of their choice to supply any and all interpreters for a three-year period. They would be aware, of course, that if the arrangement was to be profitable for the agency, the fee offered to interpreters would amount to slave wages. The original claim was that this would represent a saving of £18 million, a figure invented by someone in the Ministry of Justice and plucked from thin air, of course. In the event, the arrangement actually cost the taxpayer large sums of money. That is because the kind of people who would work for £20.00 for half a day’s work (less, in fact, because they often could not take any other work that day) were not trained, or even competent, interpreters. Often an interpreter would not bother to turn up at all to court or wherever else he/she had been summoned. In a few cases, the lack of a suitable interpreter resulted in a defendant being kept in custody for weeks at a time. In fact, the cost to the taxpayer in terms of lost time, remands, etc. is incalculable.

Due to the utter incompetence and greed of the contracted agency, the government was urged to terminate the initial contract prematurely but it never did so. When the three-year contract finally expired, at least it was not renewed; the new arrangement is with another rapacious translation agency, on the same terms as before, and again interpreters are being paid well below minimum wage. This is possible because interpreters are “freelance”, i.e.allegedly self-employed. The government seems to have come to some sort of arrangement with the Inland Revenue about this, since interpreters ought to be employees of the agency hiring them, but this government encourages the “gig economy” of which interpreters are just another bunch of victims, along with those who work for Deliveroo, Uber and zero hours contract employers. How ironic that this is the government that has introduced the Anti-Slavery Act!

The agencies involved in hiring out public service interpreters are run in the same way as the company that sent out defective trucks that would eventually kill innocent bystanders. Their owners are utterly unscrupulous and interested solely in profit, to the detriment of everything else. We do not know how many victims there are of incompetent, untrained, underpaid people who call themselves language interpreters. The truth is that the translation agencies who use them are hugely successful and will continue to be so because their immorality will be allowed to continue unchecked.

Dec 042016

My company offers a range of translation services but there are some in which we specialise:

1) Court interprreting: my business partner and I have appeared as court interpreters in every type of court, in the UK, the USA and Israel. Court interpreters, unlike lawyers, cannot specialise. They work on every type of case from parking in the wrong place to homicide. Some cases we have to handle, such as those involving divorce or sex crimes, are very distasteful, but we just have to keep our heads down and do the best job we can. As interpreters, we are not allowed to interfere in any way, give advice to a defendant or witness, etc. We are not “McKenzie friends”. This often annoys the person for whom we are interpreting but we cannot do otherwise if we are to maintain the trust of the judicial system. A court interpreter must be quick-witted, have an excellent command of both languages, speak clearly and fully understandably, and be able to sight-translate documents, a skill often demanded especially in commercial law cases. All of these are highly skilled talents that the judicial system in the UK consistently ignores. When Chris Grayling was Justice Minister he devised a “brilliant” scheme for cutting down on the expense of court interpreting, by handing it over lock, stock and barrel to some obscure agency on the Yorkshire Moors that instantly did a deal with Capita, who took over the whole thing. The government had plucked a figure out of the air – £12 million – as the potential savings of the scheme. In fact, it COST the taxpayer millions in inadequate interpreting, lost court time when an interpreter failed to turn up, remands in custody when no interpreter could be found,etc.

Capita has massive political influence and fought for years to retain the lucrative contract but in the end they lost out. That is not because sanity prevailed and court interpreting was again administered, as it had been in the past, by the various courts operating their own lists. No, the contract has now been handed to Thebigword, another translation agency one which will be using the same underpaid and underqualified interpreters as before with the same disastrous results.