Major Pay Increase Marks Big Win for Interpreters in Australian State of Victoria

The state of Victoria in Australia has approved a funding increase for interpreter services to improve the pay and working conditions of contractor and casually employed interpreters.

Minister for Multicultural Affairs Robin Scott announced that the new state budget allocation of AUD 21.8m spread over four years or AUD 8.4m per year, saying that it was the largest single funding increase for interpreter services in the state.

“With Victoria’s increasing cultural diversity, interpreters have never been more important. It is essential that we ensure a professional, high-quality language services industry to meet the needs of Victorians,” Scott said in a news release posted in the government website.

The Victorian government said, “interpreters enable linguistically diverse communities to better access health, education and other critical services.” However, the remuneration for interpreters has been static for over 15 years.  

This situation has reportedly prompted “many experienced interpreters to leave the sector due to concerns about job security, remuneration and working conditions.” The funding boost was  meant to address this growing concern.

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Historic Moment

Translators and Interpreters Australia (TIA), the union and advocacy group promoting the rights and welfare of translators and interpreters, welcomed the move, saying that the new budget approved by parliament to improve the state’s language services is a big win for language professionals.

“This is a historic moment for translators and interpreters in Victoria, and hopefully, this budget will set a precedent for other states to follow,” it said in a news release. “This new investment will increase the capacity of the state’s interpreting industry and will help new migrants get access to education and training, find employment and understand important health care information, helping more Victorians contribute and belong.”

While the government did not post details of the budget allocation, Marty Mei, Press Secretary to the Premier of the state of Victoria, told Slator in an emailed comment that the new rate for interpreters represent an increase for all service types.

“For example, a NAATI-certified interpreter will receive an increase of approximately 30% on the current rate for a standard face-to-face 90-minute session, and up to 48% for a 15-minute telephone session. The increased rate [of] payments will come into effect on 1 July 2018,” he said.

TIA, which led the campaign for this fee increase, posted on its website the new base rates for interpretation services as follows:

TIA also posted the Regional service charge (RSC), or the new payment scheme for compensating interprets for onsite service provision in regional or rural location, which it said is going to be paid to interpreters in addition to existing travel allowance.

“We are very proud of this achievement and all Victorian interpreters who work as casual employees and contractors for language services providers (agencies) will benefit,” Niki Baras, Organiser, TIA, said in a statement sent to Slator.

Highest paying state

Rebecca Haynes, CEO of Melbourne-based language service provider (LSP) ezispeak, told Slator that with this development, freelance or independent contractors who are not covered by an enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) that undertake government work, Victoria would become the highest paying state in Australia for interpretation services provided to the government.

“Generally speaking, onsite interpretation services pay between AUD 58 to AUD 70 for the first 90 minutes for state government work. Courts and tribunals attract slightly higher rates as goes federal government work,” she said.

The pay for other service modalities such as over the phone and video remote interpreting was considerably less as the market generally views them as mere support services to onsite interpretation.

“The market compensation model for over the phone interpretation ranges from AUD 8 to AUD 20 for 15 minutes. With regards to video interpretation, the majority of the market providers require a minimum of 60 minutes due to how they deliver video,” she explained.

Haynes said private LSPs that have contracts with the Victorian state government must abide by the new rates payable to interpreters.


LSPs see challenges

Other state and federal government tenders or contracts within Australia have not set mandates regarding minimum pay rates, according to Haynes.

Given that all LSPs — private- and government-owned — generally compete for talent as well as for contracts for state work, does she see a downside to this announcement?

From a commercial and sustainability perspective, Haynes said the new mandate from the state “has the potential to lessen competition from a skills or labor perspective.”

“Private enterprise LSPs certainly have some challenges ahead of them in terms of having equitable access to government contracts” — Rebecca Haynes, CEO, ezispeak

In the state of Victoria, she said the government owns VITS Language Loop, a specialist language provider established in 1978 and today operates in the open market. There’s also the federal government-owned Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National).

These government-owned full service language providers do not outsource work to LSPs and enjoy privileges as state-owned enterprises.

“Private enterprise LSPs certainly have some challenges ahead of them in terms of having equitable access to government contracts beyond the monopoly providers that enjoy their preferential positions,” Haynes said.

Hat tip to Rebecca Haynes, CEO, ezispeak, who alerted us to this story.