Saturday, November 20, 2010

Equal Rights, Unequal Pay

I read with interest the address by Joris de Bres, Race Relations Commissioner, at the Annual General Meeting of Interpreting New Zealand, Multicultural Services Centre, held in Wellington on the 17th of this month.

The right to an interpreter is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “to have the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak the language used in court (Article 14.3(f)). So is the right to legal representation. Otherwise, it amounts to the miscarriage of justice, which is a grave offence.

A lawyer in Australia charges over $200.00 just to look at you for an hour. An accredited, qualified court interpreter in Australia, after all things get factored in (travel time, delays, etc), is paid a paltry $16.00 per hour before tax. Both are professionals, both have qualifications. The diffrence? One is employed by himself (or a large law firm), while the other is employed by Australia's only employer - the Government - via a host of decent and not so decent agencies.

Talk about monopolisation!

Plus, there is no union to represent community-sector interpreters. So no access to legal redress for all sorts of other abuses that come bundled with low pay: no debriefing, harassment and intimidation of interpreters, no parking dues, often no travel fee, and no paid CPD opportunities. And then the one and only employer has the temerity to pay thousands of dollars to pack agency owners and so-called "end users" (still Government) for a whole day of fruitless discussions about the lack of retention of interpreters (or good ones at least).

Is it so hard to fathom, or is our public service slightly intellectually disabled?