National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters

NUBSLI members boycott LanguageLine Solutions

LanguageLine boycottNUBSLI’s boycott of LanguageLine Solutions has come to an end following negotiations that have arrived at sustainable rates being offered to interpreters. You can read more on why the boycott was called in the article below.

LanguageLine Solutions (LLS) bid for and were awarded contracts to deliver BSL/English interpreting services for Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). They achieved this by reducing interpreters’ pay, and terms and conditions, without discussion with interpreters in the region.

The substantial cut to fees, due to take effect in Sheffield from 1 November, threatens the sustainability of the interpreting profession in this area, and as a result the access provision for the Deaf community. Interpreters in London will also face the same cuts from 1 December 2016.

So, with reluctance, in order to sustain a quality interpreting service in and around Sheffield, the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) is calling on its members to boycott these contracts, and contracts held by LLS in London that offer the same unsustainable fees.

NUBSLI asks all members and non-members in Sheffield, London and the rest of the UK, to support this action by not accepting work for these contracts. NUBSLI recognises that sadly this practice of tendering for contracts at unsustainable rates is not new; however, to see such a move made by a formerly respected agency is deeply troubling. Without any prior consultation, LLS have determined that the interpreting community will simply comply with a huge cut to their fees.

Agencies cannot continue to win contracts by forcing down interpreter fees and offering unrealistic terms and conditions without consequence. If allowed to continue unchecked, the future of the Sign Language profession will be jeopardised by no longer being viable, and as a result the interpreting provision that the Deaf community have fought so hard for is placed at risk of becoming diminished and hugely compromised.

BSL/English interpreters are proud of the work we do and loyal to the community we serve. A boycott of bookings is a last resort – regrettably the feeling amongst interpreters is that they must now take this action to preserve the future of their profession.

NUBSLI has contacted Sheffield CCG, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Sheffield City Council to explain that BSL/English interpreters are only witholding services from LanguageLine Solutions. We made it clear that interpreters are still available and have provided information on how to contact interpreters directly.

NUBSLI recognises that there may be exceptional circumstances, such as working with long standing clients with terminal or life-threatening conditions, in which bookings may be honoured.

Support interpreters by signing our petition

We are petitioning Vanessa Eke, managing director of LanguageLine Services to reverse the cuts to interpreters’ pay. Anyone can sign our petition – you don’t have to be an interpreter!


Why are NUBSLI boycotting LanguageLine when it is the CCG that is imposing these cuts as part of the framework agreement?

While the frameworks do state ‘2 hours’, there is no mention of an hourly rate or total fee. NUBSLI had conversations with the commissioners about this before the contracts were awarded and we were told that they would expect agencies to bid at levels that would continue to meet the market rates for interpreting.LanguageLine has decided to cut the overall fee by 1/3 and is using the frameworks to try and force down market rates.

Interpreters do not work to hourly rates but to periods of time, usually a half day/full day fee structure. NUBSLI’s fee guidance recognises that many interpreters are happy to accept a slightly lower fee for local, shorter, health bookings and as such created the call out fee element of the structure. This call out fee is not equivalent to a set number of hours “worth” of interpreting service; it is the fee charged per assignment, as the interpreter sees fit.

Is this a boycott of all bookings offered by Language Line Services?

No. In Sheffield this is specifically boycotting any bookings offered under the following 3 contracts being serviced: Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). From 1 December the boycott also covers bookings in London that are offered under the same reduced fees.

Why these contracts specifically?

These contracts have been negotiated recently and will commence in Sheffield on 1 November.  LLS wrote to all interpreters in Sheffield and London to advise them that the fee rates are to be  reduced from 3 hour to 2 hour minimums, which is in effect a 33% cut.

If a medical booking is for 2 hours, can’t interpreters take on other work after the 2 hour session has finished?

The nature of medical bookings is that they are often at different hospitals and therefore sufficient time needs to be allowed for travel, ensuring that interpreters can arrive in good time to each assignment and fulfil the complete duration of each appointment.

The opportunity for most interpreters to undertake more than 2 bookings in a day is unlikely and on the occasions when the logistics allow for 3+ bookings (usually for GP appointments) this will have been arranged between the interpreter and agency so that they can be confident that the standard of service will not be compromised by the need to rush from one booking to another. We have seen agencies trying to fit in as many as six bookings in a day and this can create problems, as explained in our recent Nub article.

Accepting two bookings per day under LanguageLine’s new fee rates is not enough to cover the cost of being a freelance interpreter.

Won’t Deaf people’s health suffer if interpreters don’t attend health appointments?

Interpreters are still more than happy to interpret at hospital and GP appointments and we have advised the services how they can book local interpreters directly, which would in fact save them more money.

The NHS is under financial stress, shouldn’t interpreters accept cuts to save the NHS money?

Instead of saving money, privatisation has been shown to cost considerably more and deliver a poorer service, as shown by the organisation We Own It on their website. It would be cheaper to book interpreters directly.The BSL/English interpreting community is facing a very real sustainability threat. Interpreter fees have, in general, remained unchanged over the past 10 years, while the costs of regulation, membership to organisations, CPD, fuel, travel, insurance and general living costs have increased considerably. A cut in pay of 1/3 is simply unsustainable and will see interpreters lose their livelihoods.

NUBSLI also has real concern that with the lengthy and costly training required in order to become a qualified and registered BSL/English interpreter, the profession will fail to attract new trainees at rates of pay as low as this, leaving the Deaf community with access to an even smaller pool of well trained and qualified interpreters in the future. The approach being taken by LLS is explained more in our podcast, which you can listen to or read on our website.

I cannot say no to this work – I need an income!

We recognise the pressure individuals may feel to accept work whatever the pay rates in order to earn a wage, however we encourage all interpreters to take the long-view. By accepting such an unsustainable low rate now you are giving agencies the power to dictate your pay rates and it is reasonable to expect that these will continue to decline. In addition, if you were to work out the effect on your salary over the year from accepting 2 or 3 jobs at these unviable rates you will see a decline that equates to an alarming reduction in your income, which for most people will not be sustainable. See the resource NUBSLI has created to illustrate the impact to the reduction in fees.

What is the point in refusing work if other interpreters continue to work for these contracts?

It is true that the boycott can only be successful if it has broad support. That is why it is important that all of us make a strong case for this action when talking to colleagues from outside the union membership who might be sceptical. These are never easy conversations but, if we communicate our reasoning in a respectful and persuasive manner, we can win people’s support.

How could these cuts affect you?

Interpreters are already being affected by cuts in Access to Work, court bookings and other areas that they work in. Over a period of a year this can amount to several thousands of pounds. You can read examples of some interpreters who have faced these cuts and see how much you stand to lose on our website.

How much do you stand to lose