Justice secretary Liz Truss has been urged to review how vital interpreter contracts are awarded and how they operate, following reports that Pearl Linguistics has gone into liquidation.
Unite is concerned that there is ‘a race to the bottom’ in an outsourcing contract culture that is adversely affecting those who require interpreting services when using the NHS or appearing in court.
“What we have here is an example of a company, Pearl Linguistics that has gone into liquidation because, it appears, it was unable to operate in a contract culture even when underpinned by depressed wages,” said Unite regional officer Andy Murray.
“The cost-cutting across the sector is driving highly competent interpreters away from the profession as they can’t afford to live on the wages on offer.
“The people that are going to suffer are those needing assistance when going to NHS appointments and those appearing in court.”
Unite, which embraces the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI), said that interpreters, skilled in difficult languages and dialects, were being paid as little as £12-an-hour, while the NUBSLI recommended freelance rates for fully qualified interpreters in London are £260-a-day.
Unite has been taking legal advice about the possibility that interpreting agencies are abusing their dominant position in the marketplace.
“The government has an obsession, bordering on mania, with outsourcing to private companies what should be publicly-run services,” Murray added.
“These companies promise that they will make the contract run more smoothly while implementing so-called ‘efficiency savings’ – but the biggest cost element is staff wages and these are then slashed.
“Unite is calling on justice secretary Liz Truss to review the outsourcing of interpreter contacts, so that a first class service is delivered to often vulnerable clients, without a race to the bottom when it comes to wages, and terms and conditions for those providing these specialist skills.
“We are currently taking legal advice relating to the dominant position that these firms currently enjoy.”