Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

EU Parliament interpreters stage strike

  • Interpreters at the EU parliament will still work on site (Photo: European Parliament)
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In-house interpreters at the European Parliament have gone on strike, citing health issues and long working hours.

They will still interpret on site. But they will no longer interpret people who dial in from a remote connection.

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In a statement, the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), says the remote dial-ins have resulted in highly degraded sound.

The past two years have seen some European lawmakers dialling in from their cars, with poor internet connection and bad equipment.

The two combined are said to remove frequencies, which then exerts excessive acoustic pressure on the cochlea, a spiral-shaped bone of the inner ear essential to hearing.

The sound is rendered even worse through compressions via algorithms.

EUobserver understands 100 out of some 250 staff interpreters have since reported auditory health problems to the European Parliament medical services.

And an internal email from an interpreter delegation at the European Parliament notes that problems started to emerge in February 2021.

They say 63.5 percent of all staff interpreters were already experiencing hearing disorders at the time.

Their strike was scheduled to kick off on Monday (27 June) but was postponed by a day to negotiate with the parliament's leadership.

However, the European Parliament outsourced interpretation to another service provider on Monday. The new hires covered a session at a European parliament committee foreign affairs committee (Afet).

Frédéric Girard, one of the representatives of EU accredited freelance interpreters at the International Association of Conference Interpreters, described the outsourcing as social dumping.

"Interpreters are appalled by the decision of the European Parliament administration to outsource Monday's Afet," he said.

The move has only heightened tensions between the interpreters and the parliament's administration because it is seen as an effort to undermine the strike.

The press services for the parliament said the outsourcing was an exceptional and rare measure.

"It has already happened in the past for this kind of conference services," it said, in an emailed statement.

They noted that interpreters are back to working three per booth, all in the meeting room and that regular interpreter working conditions apply.

The parliament had also earlier this month decided to continue to use remote sessions in certain meetings, they said.

Interactio

Staff interpreters at the European Parliament use a so-called Interactio platform, first deployed in March of 2020.

The aim was to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions so that the European Parliament could continue to function.

Interactio apparently does not comply with international standards governing meetings with interpretation.

The European Parliament's DG for Logistics and Interpretation for Conferences or DG Link had reduced hours spent in the Interactio booths given the poor quality.

But when Covid-19 restrictions were later lifted on 13 June, the remote connections remained in place and the hours of work increased.

European parliament president Roberta Metsola has also chimed in.

On Sunday (26 June), she sent an email to staff interpreters, with trade unions Union Syndicale Luxembourg and U4U in copy.

The email, seen by EUobserver, says the parliament will continue to allow MEPs "to intervene remotely under specific circumstances."

But she also noted that the parliament is willing to work to find a solution to the problem.

"The social dialogue, of which I am the guarantor, has now started," she said.

That overture has since soured given Monday's outsourcing of interpreters.

Union Syndicale Luxembourg, in a response to Metsola, said the outside hires are a breach to the right of collective bargaining.

They also noted they are not accredited to the European Parliament, posing possible questions on quality.

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