28 December 2015
Home Office puts plans to cut interpreters' pay on hold
The Home Office has deferred plans to cut the pay of more than 2,000 interpreters from 1 January following threats that they would boycott government work, potentially throwing the immigration system into chaos.
When they were first informed of the proposed pay cut last month, the interpreters said they would refuse to accept assignments. Such a move could cause the system for processing asylum claims across the country to grind to a halt. The interpreters work across the Home Office including for UK Visas & Immigration, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and HM Passport Office. They launched a fair payment campaign in protest against the planned pay cuts.
The Home Office has confirmed that any plans to cut pay will be deferred at least until February while negotiations with the interpreters take place. Prior to the Guardian reporting on the planned pay cut last week, it had said that there was no requirement to consult with interpreters who are contracted to work for them on a freelance basis.
Interpreters receive £16 an hour on weekdays and slightly more at weekends. The first hour’s work is paid at an enhanced rate to recognise the time and cost of travelling to and from appointments.
Up to three hours’ travel each way for an appointment attracts no extra payment from the Home Office. Under the proposals, the new first-hour rate for weekdays would be cut from £48 to £32, while the rate at weekends would come down from £72 to £46. The interpreters say they have not had a pay rise since at least 2002 so in real terms have had a pay cut every year. But this is the first time the Home Office has actually proposed lowering their wages.
Home Office interpreters are highly trained and have to go through counter-terrorism security clearance so it would not be easy for the Home Office to find replacements at short notice. The interpreters planned to boycott all interpreting assignments offered on 1 January 2016 and to roll out a series of one-day boycotts after that. These plans are on hold while discussions continue.
A meeting lasting more than two hours took place between interpreters and the Home Office on 21 December. At the meeting, officials warned the interpreters against speaking to the media.
A further meeting between the Home Office and interpreters is planned for mid-January. Interpreters said the talks gave them an opportunity to demonstrate ”our collective strength and unity”.
But one interpreter who did not want to be named expressed concern that the Home Office was just waiting for the situation to quieten down and would then go ahead with the planned cuts.
In a statement issued by interpreters when they launched the fair payment campaign, they said: “Many interpreters and their supporters have already written to the Home Office central interpreters’ unit expressing their dismay and opposition to these cuts in rates, which were already much eroded through inflation, and mean that it will no longer be feasible for them to continue working in this field.
“This will result in a diminishing pool of qualified, experienced and vetted interpreters for the Home Office, detrimental both to them but especially so to the great number of vulnerable people who depend on reliable interpreting services to put their cases across since they are unable to do so themselves. Their lives may be at stake. The right to a fair hearing is enshrined in international human rights law.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We keep our costs under constant review to ensure the contractors we employ offer the best value for money for the taxpayer.
“Following our meeting with the interpreters on 21 December, we intend to defer implementation of this change at least until 1 February 2016 to allow us time to give proper considerations to the views and opinions expressed.”