Interpreters of the Low Countries unite!

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Interpreters of the Low Countries unite!

The National Professional Meeting of Interpreters and Translators took place on 10 June in Nieuwegein. The objectives and the effects arising from the Wbtv and Rbtv (professional registry) were to be subject to a critical review, along with procurement policy and competition law.

Speakers from disparate backgrounds informed us of news – some pleasant, some otherwise. The speeches varied from the fine words of Mr Rein Peters, Chairman of the Wbtv Quality institute (but what about that evaluation?) to such serious subjects as procurement procedures, revealed (almost completely) by Edwin de Koning, Category Manager for Interpretive and Translation Services. From Sharon Gesthuizen, SP representative in parliament, who called on us to join forces… to all of the legal limitations set out clearly by Mr Elies Steyger, competition law attorney. There were hilarious examples from criminal lawyer Mr Youssef Taghi, and Anita Meijer, owner of Tolken Select, passed out apples. I just wondered whether we were comparing apples and oranges.

What I noticed? I saw a bifurcation or a triple-split, maybe even multiple dividing lines among the large group of translators.

In answer to the question by one of the speakers of: “are you an entrepreneur?”, I answered out loud: “yes”!

I do consider myself an entrepreneur: I’m responsible for the work I do, how I do it and for the rate I charge. I’m proud of what I do and of the way I conduct my work. I got strange looks from a few of those present. “Oops. Did I say something wrong?”, I thought. Not as I see it. I’m not dependent on one single client or even a group of clients. So it turns out that my motto “todo depende de punto de vista” also applies to this.

Because when it comes to interpreting for government, we’re somewhere between a rock and a hard place. A significant group of registered translators get the majority of their revenue from working for two agents who have landed government contracts via tenders. The group seemed to me to be one that had grown from being civil servants in the past. A group that – since the privatisation of interpretation and translation services – had completely lost its way. And as it turned out… yes, indeed: if you depend on this as your primary source of income, then you’ll have a tough time (to put it mildly) in the face of all the new developments.

A quality register that – quite rightly – places requirements on the type and amount of education required of you to maintain your quality level does, indeed, cost money. You need to pay for this. There was one fact that was brought to everyone’s clear attention by Ralph Schmitt, sworn Dutch – German interpreter and translator. And that was this: it’s not just the cost of the lecture, workshop or course. It also involves all the associated costs: travel, loss of income due to assignments you have to refuse since you can’t simply clone yourself.

When you combine this with rates that haven’t been adjusted or indexed since 1981 (seriously!) or with rates that have even been lowered, then this is truly sad! An interpreter or translator who works solely for the government is so dependent on his/her clients that there’s little possibility to negotiate rates. This downward spiral due to the current form of procurement is alarming. In the words of Maarten Post of the Foundation for Dutch Independent Entrepreneurs: “In the final analysis, you’re no longer an entrepreneur in this situation: you’re an underpaid day labourer with no rights”.

The government is not my main source of income. I tend toward action, toward finding other sources of income and toward searching for new opportunities. Sour-pussing over the status quo doesn’t force change, let alone improvement. And waiting for someone else to fix things doesn’t work, either. Huub de Graaff (change agent and idea-man, in his own words) brought an inspiring vision. Maarten Post’s clear language. The beautiful collaboration in the Portuguese Language Circle, sketched by Aleid de Leeuw. But I wonder if these statements resonated with everyone. If you don’t consider yourself an entrepreneur, are you going to start acting like one all of a sudden?

If you’ve read Paul van Loon’s Raveleijn, you may find things to be simple. The Knights in Raveleijn face a multi-headed monster. They can kill the monster only by joining forces. If one knight calls for vigour and decisiveness, the second one thinks “I can’t do it anyway” and the third just stands there staring… then the battle’s going to be a long one.

We may be independent, but we’re not alone

My hope? That we can work together in a different way. That we can position ourselves more forcefully. If each of us just goes his own way, then this will get in the way of the group. I hope that NGTV and SIGV – who kept on going into the evening sun, drinks in hand – will join forces. And not just these two associations. Let bygones be bygones and involve all of the translators’ associations in the Netherlands. Head off together to see how things work in Belgium or Germany or elsewhere. Initiate discussions with translation agency associations, the government. Use paid professional resources as necessary and hold on to that positive energy. Let’s cooperate as independent entrepreneurs and co-operate! For more information, please visit KTV Kennisnet voor Taal & Vakopleidingen 

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