TWO Polish interpreters who provide a vital service for courts, hospitals and councils say they face a bleak future after the Government changed the way they work.
Bartosz Orlik, 37, of West Hill, and Magdalena Zalesiak 29, from St Leonards, have been working across the south east for several years translating Polish into English.
But the way in which they receive their assignments has changed and they claim they face losing up to half their income.
Earlier this year Applied Language Solutions won the contract to provide interpreting services for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The Oldham-based firm has agreed a five-year deal with the Ministry which has responsibilities for courts, prisons, the probation service, the Legal Aid system and employment tribunals.
It means organisations including police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and probation trusts will be able to sign contracts under a framework agreement to deliver interpretation and translation services.
Before the contract was awarded, interpreters would be contacted by court managers or police officers asking them for their services. But from December they will have to go through ALS to find an appropriate interpreter.
Before the contract Bartosz and Magdalena were earning up to £30 per hour but under the new system the most they will earn is £22 per hour.
ALS says it will save the MoJ £60 million and cut administration and time costs for frontline workers across the justice sector.
Bartosz, who has been interpreting in the UK for three years, said: “The Ministry is saving money but at what cost?
“We would get less pay and I would be unable to survive and I feel the quality of the interpreter may also drop.
“I have a mortgage and bills to pay and I just can’t afford to lose this amount of money. I may have to return to Poland and a lot of interpreters are in the same situation.”
Magdalena, who has a degree in English Language said: “Under the new rules, I will not be earning enough to support myself and my concern is that after I have spent considerable time and up to £10,000 in course, exam and professional membership fees to become an interpreter, I may now have to retrain and look for any work available to make a living.
“My fees for a one-hour assignment may be equal to the cost of me travelling to the venue and therefore I will not be making any profit.”
The Society for Public Services Interpreters said none of its members had joined ALS and it intended to make a legal challenge to the framework of the MoJ agreement.
Anthony Walker, spokesman for ALS, said: “The technology behind the Framework Agreement service tackles a number of ongoing issues, such as the frequent double booking of linguists, failure of interpreters to turn up for assignments and courts having to pay individuals large travel expenses for brief hearings.
“It will also help to remove the need for court staff and MoJ employees to spend unnecessary time arranging and co-ordinating linguists at a local level.
“The rates are fixed and non-negotiable for everyone. This rate of pay is £22 an hour for a Tier 1 linguist and £20 per hour for a Tier 2 linguist.
“These two categories being the ones that will be required to deliver the great bulk of all the work done by linguists in criminal justice settings. A very small portion of criminal justice work will fall in to the Tier 3 category at £16.”