16 January 2015
The National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) is a newly established branch of Unite who in seven short months have attracted 25% of the profession. As a profession of freelancers, it was initially a challenge to persuade people that there was a role for a trade union and we are non-politicised as a profession.
NUBSLI was originally established as a result of “Stop Changes to Access to Work”; a campaign jointly lead by BSL interpreter Nicky Evans and Deaf campaigner Geraldine O’Halloran. Changes being made to the Access to Work scheme put caps on the level of support Deaf BSL users and disabled people could use. The number of hours people could receive, before being forced to employ a full time support worker, was being capped to 30 hours (known as the 30 hour rule). This was without being given sufficient funds to achieve this. On top of this the government were capping the hourly rate to pay for BSL interpreters.
The logical progression of this campaign was to establish a union to protect BSL interpreters pay, terms and conditions, and the quality of services being provided to the Deaf community. This was done with the support of DPAC & UtR steering committee members. One of the first actions was therefore to ballot on a minimum pay structure. NUBSLI will meet the DWP shortly to request these are adopted. The Stop Changes campaign was instrumental in the Work & Pensions Select Committee holding an inquiry into Access to Work: they recommend that government consult with NUBSLI over fees. The fee structure will however become irrelevant if the DWP contract from a new national framework agreement.
All interpreting services publicly funded will soon be provided under a new national framework agreement run by the Crown Commercial Services (CCS). This agreement will contract out interpreting services for all languages (including BSL) leading to lower pay, terms and conditions and see standards and quality reduced.
The final draft contained qualifications which included no interpreting training. As a result of lobbying, lower levels have now been removed from the specification, but allows for any subcontracting to use any level of language. This presents a substantial risk to the Deaf BSL community as there are no safeguarding requirements. People with basic language could be used in settings such as hospitals, social services, police, court etc as interpreters. The consequences are unthinkable.
The BSL interpreting profession is under threat.
National contracts will potentially de-professionalise interpreting. Interpreters pay and terms and conditions are under threat, as are the services that will be provided to Deaf BSL users, and users of spoken language interpreters (who face the same issues). Interpreters will be forced either to accept lower rates or leave the profession.
NUBSLI have just completed a survey in which almost half (48%) of respondents have said they are considering leaving the profession. It takes seven years to train & qualify.
We need your support.