Working Conditions of Interpreters

Special Report, Working conditions

Union Syndicale calls on management to open negotiations immediately

The SCIC (The Directorate-General for Interpretation – DG Interpretation -SCIC for its former French name Service Commun Interprétation-Conférences) provides interpreting services for the European Commission, the Council of the Regions, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee, using both statutory and freelance interpreters. Over the past few years, the working environment has changed dramatically, due to a considerable digital transformation of its services, amplified by the health crisis of 2021.

The Délégation des Interprètes, which represents staff in this category, accompanied the profession during the pandemic, coping with all the changes. It now faces unprecedented challenges of all kinds.

In particular

  • Service culture: a devaluation of the profession internally, and a refusal to discuss working conditions with “client” institutions on the pretext of respecting competition;
  • External risks: interpreting using artificial intelligence and interpreting on external platforms. The latter is provided by interpreters paid “low cost” by client institutions;
  • Staff shortages and programming failures at SCIC;
  • Chaotic schedules: missions with unrealistic deadlines and the concomitant increase in costs borne by the interpreters;
  • New, unprotected working conditions: remote and hybrid working methods are in pilot mode, with no prior occupational health and safety analysis. The administration does not provide the necessary statistics to quantify acceptable hearing exposure limits for remote interpretation. SCIC is also involved, through its representatives, in the development of ISO standards that will lead to remote modalities in Hub, under unacceptable working conditions;
  • Follow-up to the pandemic: for the time being, the administration has not acted on the recommendations of the CPPT (Committee for Protection and Prevention in the Workplace) of February 2023, which called for the implementation of the necessary measures to protect interpreters’ hearing health. The three-month deadline has passed;
  • Management of remote personnel: the framework for the management of remote personnel by the occupational health department is non-existent. As a result, and in the absence of established scientific data, interpreters who are already in difficulty are confronted with guilt-inducing behaviors: SCIC considers that setting platforms apart is a favor.

Interpreters’ Delegation continues to call on the SCIC hierarchy to resume dialogue on these issues. Recently, it requested the support of the unions and the CLP to this end.

Union Syndicale believes that all of the above has one thing in common: the health and safety at work of our colleagues. This is where we need to work to address the situation, both through the necessary health and safety risk analyses and through substantial changes to the applicable legal framework and current management system (including clarification of the respective roles of DG HR, OIB, DIGIT and SCIC). These shortcomings in work organization also generate psychosocial burdens for staff.

In more practical terms, Union Syndicale, which has been following this issue and supporting the delegation for months, will be taking the following actions in the coming weeks:

  • Preparation of a new intervention at the CPPT in consultation with the interpreters’ delegation;
  • Request to open talks with SCIC and DG HR on interpreters’ working conditions;
  • Request for support for these actions from the Central Personnel Committee (CCP).
  • Possible legal action in the autumn, if the above actions fail to bring about a change in interpreters’ working conditions and an improvement in their hearing health.

Union Syndicale is with you!

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