Although UK interpreters in the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) have been granted key worker status, they have not, at this writing, been granted the rights that go along with it, such as fair pay and safety guidance.
“The London Metropolitan Police Service has obtained key worker status for the Registered Interpreters with whom it works,” wrote NRPSI Executive Director and Registrar Mike Orlov in an email received by Slator.
By the UK government’s own definition, key workers are those whose “work is critical to the COVID-19 response” […] those essential to the running of the justice system […] support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector […] police and support staff.” And yet Registered Interpreters are not always fairly remunerated for rendering services, especially remotely.
According to Orlov, “We have been made aware that certain language agencies have cut their engagement fees or are only paying interpreters for the time they spend actually interpreting, regardless of the amount of time they have been booked for. This means a professional interpreter could be booked for two or more hours but only paid for the 15 minutes they spend actually interpreting. It is both unfair and unethical practice to book professional interpreters to be on call for a number of hours and to only pay them for the time they spend interpreting.”
Furthermore, neither are Registered Interpreters given guidance on what is being done to keep them safe during face-to-face interpreting assignments.
“Many Registered Interpreters have raised concerns regarding the implementation of official guidance with regards to coronavirus […] in the waiting areas in police stations and courtrooms in particular,” Orlov said. “With regards to interpreting in court specifically, the interpreter usually has to stand alongside the client to simultaneously interpret everything that is said. This creates many issues with regards to social distancing.”
He added that all the situation needs is to make headsets with microphones available so interpreters can do their job without putting anyone at risk.
As early as March 3, 2020, Baroness Jean Coussins, raised the issue of the need for more guidance in the House of Lords, stating, “My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether specific briefings will be held for the public service interpreters who work in the NHS and whether advice and information to the public will be provided in languages other than English?”
As Orlov’s email, dated April 1, 2020, indicates, nothing has, as yet, been done by the government to address the plight of Registered Interpreters as the UK enters its third week of lockdown.
(On April 4, 2020, the NRPSI published a three-page summary on government aid for the self-employed and owners of small businesses.)