8 March 2012
Court and police interpreters in Birmingham protest
Court and police interpreters have protested in Birmingham over contract changes they are calling "a disaster".
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) outsourced interpretation work to private firm Applied Language Solutions (ALS) in a bid to save £18m a year.
But many interpreters refuse to work for ALS, saying their pay would drop greatly and the new system was failing.
Up to 80 protesters took part in the protest outside West Midlands police headquarters and courts.
'Period of transition'
The MoJ said the contractor had made a marked improvement after being told to take "urgent steps".
Irina Jefremova said she would be paid a third less
Capita, which owns ALS, said it had been awarded the contract to address "weaknesses, lack of transparency and disproportionate costs" in the previous system.
One of the protesters, on a loud hailer, led calls of "scrap the contract" and "end the contract".
Irina Jefremova, 27, a Russian and Lithuanian translator, said her pay would dramatically fall if she worked for ALS.
She said: "Why would I want to earn a third of what I was paid before and be associated with random, bi-lingual unqualified people who work for ALS?"
Rekha Narula, a spokeswoman for the freelance interpreters, claimed that since the new system was brought in several weeks ago, court cases were being adjourned across England and Wales costing "hundreds of thousands of pounds" because interpreters had not been supplied or unqualified or inexperienced workers sent.
"This policy has been a disaster for the courts, the police and the public," she said.
"The project was intended to cut costs but costs are in fact spiralling out of control.
"Not only that, but the company Applied Language Solutions is supplying unqualified and inexperienced interpreters wasting huge amounts of court time."
She said sign language interpreters would also have to join ALS in the future.
However, Capita denied these claims, saying ALS had 1,800 experienced, qualified translators, with more signing up daily.
A Capita spokeswoman added: "Inevitably there will be a period of transition as embedded but inefficient working practices are changed with the aim of achieving higher quality and more cost-effective services."
Interpreters were previously paid a flat fee of £85, plus a quarterly rate after three hours and for travel time and expenses.
Under the new system, they are paid hourly fees between £16 and £22 with reduced expenses and no travel time.
John Podvoiskis, 61, from Manchester, a Lithuanian translator, said of the new contract: "You can earn as little as £10 at the end of the job, having deducted transport costs."
Mr Podvoiskis, who has been a translator for 15 years in Britain, added: "You need to be accurate because people's freedom and liberties are at risk."
The MoJ said there had been an "unacceptable number of problems" in the first weeks of the contract but action had been taken.
"They have put measures in place to resolve these issues and we have already seen a marked improvement," a spokesperson said.
The MoJ added it was committed to ensuring the rights and needs of those who require interpreters were safeguarded, adding the new system would be monitored "on a daily basis".
At the scene
Solicitor Malcolm Fowler, of the firm Dennings, Tipton, who attended the protest said: "The Ministry of Justice has refused to heed the advice of those who knew about these things and now we're in a mess.
"I wish I had £5 for every time a really skilled professional, accredited interpreter had said to me 'there's no living wage in this, I'm going to have to give up interpreting'.
"My wife, as it happened, trained legal interpreter students - a lot of them are here today - over 15 years and they are gracing our courts with their professionalism and commitment.
"They will melt away and where is the next generation going to come from, if the government insists on downgrading and minimising the vital role of interpreters?"