Overview of organisations: 2008
Staff interpreters were prominent among the founders of AIIC and continue to be essential to our association. The AIIC Staff Interpreters' Committee meets annually and tracks changes inside organisations to keep all informed.
Structure of Interpreting Service 1
No major changes to report except at UNOG where the Conference Services Division, of which the Interpretation Service is part, has been re-baptised the Division of Conference Management, and at the EP where the General Directorate for Interpretation has now officially been created comprising two Directorates, one for Interpreting and one for Organisation and Programming. The FAO's structures are set to undergo a root-and-branch reform although it is not yet clear what impact this will have on the interpretation service.
Staffing and Recruitment
With the notable exception of ICAO, where for a while the very existence of the interpreting section seemed under threat, the general trend is stable or positive.
The Council of Europe announced a competition in summer 2008 to replace two outgoing staff interpreters. The downward trend in NATO interpreter ranks will finally be reversed with the arrival of five new interpreters once they have their security clearance. OECD has recruited two new interpreters and the SCIC has been recruiting for the post-enlargement booths, as well as for other booths to replace retiring colleagues.
An active recruitment drive has been ongoing at UNOG as a result of the creation of the Human Rights Council in Geneva with several new interpreters joining UNOG at entry level or higher. At UNOV all Heads of Booths are now P5 grade (previously P4) and recruitment has been ongoing to boost the overall headcount from 20 to 26.
FAO still has an unfilled vacancy in the Arabic booth, as does the ICAO in the English and French booths. For the latter, there is no clear indication of when/whether these vacancies will be filled given the language combination required (Russian) and the fact that working conditions might not be as appealing as in other organisations where interpreters are not required to translate. UNNY is also experiencing difficulties replacing interpreters who have retired or transferred to Geneva or Vienna. Despite continuing downsizing at IMF, the importance of interpreters has been clearly acknowledged. The 3 +1 University of Ottawa graduates at the FGC will become permanent members of staff if they pass the requisite exam by the end of 2008.
Working Conditions and Workload
Generally speaking workload has remained stable in all organisations, with UNNY, NATO, FAO and especially UNOG seeing a marked increase.
At the EP and SCIC, an inter-institutional agreement on working conditions for remote interpretation was approved at the end of 2007. UNOG, FAO and NATO have had to contend with the usual problems of finding interpreters to service meetings requested at the last minute, a particular problem for NATO during the Georgia/Russia crisis in August. For some isolated FGC Foreign Languages Conference Interpretation Section meetings there has been a disturbing occurrence of clients dictating poorer working conditions (reduced number of booths and/or manning strength, and use of bidule rather than booths), which some freelancers (rather than staffers) have been willing to accept.
At UNNY it is quite common for interpreters to be reassigned if a meeting is adjourned early, and at ICAO if there are no meetings, interpreters can be loaned out to other agencies. SCIC has devised a system of Interpreter Planning Labels (IPL) to show administration all the useful activities interpreters perform when they are not servicing meetings.
Conditions in EP plenary sessions have improved with "speech mailboxes" being created where members can post speeches they intend to read out, although the improvement would be far greater if booths were equipped with computers to facilitate access to these speeches and other documents. Most booths now benefit from wifi, however, for interpreters with their own laptops.
Facilities and Equipment
OECD's new conference centre was finally opened at the beginning of 2008. There are some problems with the booths, such as the lack of monitors (despite the promises made) and poor ventilation. At FAO most meeting rooms are now equipped with monitors although some rooms need modernising. At SCIC major repair work was carried out on the Borschette Conference Centre. The main UNNY building is set to undergo a large-scale renovation sparking concerns among interpreters, who will continue to work in the building, as to how this will affect their working conditions and in particular their health due to asbestos removal work being carried out. Major asbestos removal work is also being carried out at UNOV and meetings from early 2009 will take place in a new adjacent building. Renovations are also under way at UNOG: interpreters are doing their best to have some input although as yet no rooms are compliant with ISO standards. Construction work for the new NATO HQ (due to be completed in 2012) has finally got underway. The interpreting division is being consulted over specifications for booths in the new conference centre.
Apart from ICAO, where missions have become a thing of the past, and IMF, where there has been a drop in the number of missions (both as a result of budget cuts), missions remain steady and are even on the increase at NATO, UNNY and UNOV.
At CoE staff and interested local interpreters attend voice-training sessions taught by professionals from ARTE, the Franco-German TV channel. SCIC continues to offer training in as many as 20 languages, most of which takes place during working hours. A number of training vouchers are also given to interpreters allowing them to study a language on their own outside working hours. At FGC each interpreter has an annual credit of about $1000 to select in-house or commercial courses chosen from an approved list in agreement with their immediate supervisor as part of their career development.
The ICAO has no in-house training and, due to budget constraints, commercial courses are out of the question. At IMF the Interpretation Services organised an excellent 2-day Vocal Training Workshop with group and individual sessions. UNNY offers a variety of training courses interpreters can benefit from, provided their choice is relevant to their language combination and does not coincide with a busy interpreting period. UNOG did not have a training budget, although interpreters could organise study abroad and request special leave for it. UN language classes, however, are free of charge, as are other courses offered by the Staff Development and Learning Service. Before going on mission interpreters must take and pass two Security Courses. At UNOV special leave can be granted to interpreters to study language courses abroad, but budget credits are limited and not all needs can be satisfied every year.
Documentation, Computers and Terminology
At FAO, following improved cooperation with the Terminology Group, interpreters' glossaries are being integrated into the terminology database. Most organisations are satisfied with the availability of meeting documents, although as always there are still things that can be improved. FAO interpreters are set to be provided with individual ultra-lightweight laptops (costing no more than 300-400 Euros) that they will be able to use for consultation via the in-house wifi network. UNOG heads of booths have laptops and wifi is increasingly available in meeting rooms. At UNOV interpreters must take individual initiatives if they wish to make use of the terminology developed by the translators. Heads of booths are expected to be issued with laptops.
Use of New Technologies in Interpreting
Webcasting is continuing its inexorable march in many organisations. At the CoE, an agreement is being drawn up between the interpreters and the European Court of Human Rights for the webcasting of hearings. The agreement is likely to be used as a basis for the webcasting of Parliamentary Assembly part-sessions. At SCIC webcasting is mostly confined to ministerial meetings, which are not public. Plenary sessions of the EP are webstreamed live, and far more controversially, previous plenaries are accessible on-line, something many interpreters are strongly opposed to even with the disclaimer posted on the site.
At the FGC freelancers fare far better than staffers when it comes to webcasting as they are entitled to a television bonus of 25% added to their fee for every "webcast day" worked. Staffers can claim no such compensation as the union failed to include webcasting when conditions for televised broadcasts were negotiated. Webcasting is used internally at OECD, as well as for some press conferences. At UNOG major meetings are increasingly webcast with no prior warning given to interpreters. Guidelines for webcasting are currently being drawn up to ensure interpreters cannot be held liable and to avoid the use of interpreting as a replacement for translation, or worse still, verbatim records (a practice the ILO attempted to introduce but was forced to abandon following complaints from delegates).
Remote interpreting continues to be used but only to a limited extent. At OECD interpreters in the new conference centre sometimes find themselves having to interpret in a room next door to the conference room with all the usual "remote" interpreting problems this entails (no direct view of the meeting room, etc).
1 Organisations represented
Federal Government of Canada, Ottawa (FGC)
Council of Europe, Strasbourg (CoE)
European Commission, Brussels (SCIC)
European Parliament, Brussels/Strasbourg (EP)
International Monetary Fund, Washington (IMF)
United Nations Geneva (UNOG)
United Nations New York (UNNY)
United Nations Vienna (UNOV)
Articles published in this section reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.