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New working method for interpreters: how has the situation of interpreters evolved in the different institutions?

At the EP, negotiations on a Code of Conduct, « Requirements for remote participation in EP meetings », and on the incorporation of this new working method into the Working Conditions are continuing.

In principle, the Code of Conduct is definitely a step in the right direction. Based on its raison d’être, the protection of the health of both interpreters and participants in hybrid or remote meetings, it covers the essential aspects of correct remote participation: appropriate equipment (unidirectional microphone), equipment to avoid (headset microphones, Bluetooth microphones, mobile phone wire microphones, built-in microphones of PCs, tablets and telephones), a quality image, a good connection and a calm working environment. All this, plus a sound test.

If this Code of Conduct were mandatory, we could rightly speak of a quantum leap for health and safety in the EP workplace.

Unfortunately, although the recommendations are clear and strong, they are not mandatory. We are left to rely on the common sense and goodwill of MEPs who, we hope, know that the interpreters who have served them faithfully for so many years are not acting on a whim, but are pursuing a more than legitimate objective: the hearing health of all meeting participants.

This lack of a clear framework complicates the negotiations on the integration of remote interpreting into working conditions. How can we define the extent to which we can resort to a work formula if we don’t know exactly what form it will take and with what probability it will be dangerous or not?

Remote interpreting is explicitly described as an “inferior form of simultaneous interpreting” in the IIA-RI (Interinstitutional Agreement on Remote Interpreting, also known as Hampton Court).

Since then, technology has indeed advanced and in recent years we have been virtually obliged to develop this form of interpreting. However, remote interpreting is far from being the same as face-to-face interpreting. From a quality perspective, going on site is always the first option.

The interpreters can see the gestures and facial expressions of the speakers, they can observe everything that is happening in the meeting room, communication is possible between the interpreters and their clients (often by gesture or eye contact, but also by talking to each other), and it is less easy to forget the interpreters when additional documents are distributed.

The absence of these aspects increases the cognitive load. The latter is aggravated by uncertain health protection due to a non-mandatory Code of Conduct. However, a well functioning Code of Conduct is the sine qua non for extending working conditions. Only a transition period that functions as a trial period can guarantee that it works in practice.

If remote only happened exceptionally for very high-level work or in emergencies, that’s one thing. If it is used as the usual mode of presentation, working conditions will suffer. They should therefore be adapted. On the one hand, they should expressly include the “remote” mode of working with all its facets, and on the other hand, something in return should balance out what is in fact a deterioration in working conditions.

Even if there are still important elements to be defined, both in terms of substance and procedure, we are confident that it will be possible to find a solution in Parliament with DG Linc.

At the Commission, we are faced with a problem concerning working conditions in a number of respects and social dialogue, as it is currently being practised, fails to provide a solution.

The area of new modes of interpretation is a huge grey area, with no clear and lasting rules in sight :

– For meetings on platforms, SCIC is still applying the working conditions of the pandemic (IPA) which, moreover, are being applied with a good dose of “creativity”.

For the time being, management is not open to negotiations to find a long-term solution.

At the Council, even for meetings served by SCIC, no set of rules is respected for visioconferences, which are coming closer and closer to remote meetings, which means that the problems of remote access are well and truly present.

– As for hybrid meetings with a low remote participation rate, known as MIPs (Mostly in Person Meetings), a pilot project is underway to collect data. However, what is possible at the EP (collecting data, finding solutions for recording the speaking time of remote interpreters, differentiating the duration of the meeting from the duration of the Interactio connection), seems to be impossible at the Commission.

According to Scic, the data has indeed been collected, but it is unusable.  And yet, as a major Interactio customer, SCIC should even be in a position to ask for a technical feature that would make it possible to record remote working time automatically.

The pilot project scheduled to run from October to January has already been extended.  As it is due to expire soon, the Interpreters’ Delegation asked what the next step would be. The administration does not seem to be in a hurry to negotiate.

Regulating platform work in the long term is entirely possible. Working conditions on platforms could even be much more flexible than at present (even though Tempe will always be more strenuous than work on site), provided that good quality sound can be guaranteed. To find a solution to the problem of potentially harmful sound, the EP is working with internationally renowned experts. At the Commission, SCIC did receive the CPPT’s recommendations in February, but the procedure has been bogged down ever since. The Interpreters’ Delegation’s proposals on this subject have not been discussed.

Current working conditions are also suffering :

As a reminder, SCIC was originally conceived as an inter-institutional service for the Commission and the Council. In the end, it became a Commission interpretation service, providing services to the Council, the EESC and the CoR in return for payment.

There is currently a shortage of interpreters on the labour market, which limits the opportunities for SCIC to engage. At present, the Commission is asking for more meetings to be served (which is normal, since it is its interpreting service), so SCIC must provide more resources for the Commission.

At the same time, it does not want to reduce the service provided to the other institutions (on the one hand, it is bound by Service Level Agreements (SLAs), on the other hand, it needs this income, being one of the few DGs that have to earn part of their financial resources themselves).

This situation has several repercussions.

– some of the requests for interpretation (from within the Commission, but also from outside, from the Council and the Committees) cannot be met. The institutions in question therefore try to engage themselves. This is possible, given that they are not bound by the SCIC’s working conditions. We see hourly contracts, contracts for work from home, paid at a rate that is clearly below the rules, and non-regulatory working hours.

Current working conditions are also being eroded.

The workload is distributed very unevenly. The SBC, an purely internal indicator (different from the KPIs for external use) that would help to rebalance the workload, is biased and little used.

Missions are being carried out to impossible timeframes (time to arrive at the airport), and problematic practices are becoming established (Mission Order accepted – but with certain conditions, which means additional costs for the mission leader, without the latter being informed).

At the beginning of May, the SCIC announced that an Action plan to better satisfy demand for interpretation had been drawn up for the coming year. This plan was established without prior consultation of the Interpreters’ Delegation. At a meeting requested by the DI, certain aspects could be smoothed out. The fact remains, however, that a rule concerning extra-statutory work patterns, although recently negotiated, has been further restricted unilaterally.

Compensation for exceptionally long working hours, hitherto decided and when necessary negotiated on a case-by-case basis, has now been fixed as a flat rate without any consultation of the Interpreters’ Delegation. – According to SCIC, the Agreement would allow such a decision to be taken without consulting staff representatives. The ID is still waiting for a precise answer to the question of where such a provision would be found.

In addition, the fixed day for the work of staff representation has recently been called into question. (Until now, Planning had to ask staff representatives for their agreement when it came to giving up their “staff representation” day to work in high-level meetings. In future, the burden would be reversed and it would be up to the DI members to claim it once they see that they are scheduled in a team on an ID-day).

All this does not augur well for the renegotiation of working conditions (the 1987 Agreement and its Annexes which have updated it over the years) which has already been announced for after the summer.

Furthermore, sensible proposals from the Delegation (adapting teleworking abroad to the professional reality of interpreters in a post-pandemic context as well as a feasible solution for the holidays in French speaking Belgian schools) have been brushed aside without any convincing explanation. 

While this situation is having an impact on current working conditions, the work of the ISO Group, in which some SCIC representatives (but not staff representatives) are participating, is likely to jeopardise working conditions for the entire profession in the long term. The ISO Group is currently working on a standard governing booths used for a hub. A hub is a working arrangement that separates the meeting room from the place where interpreters gather to work. Since the Commission has no experience of working with a hub, it would make sense to first define the working conditions for this kind of arragnement in the framework of social dialogue, and only then work out the technical aspects of the box (booth) that is supposed to house this type of work.

What’s more, such an undertaking could be based on an idea of optimisation: if we opt to forego the advantages of face-to-face work on site (see above), we might as well try to avoid the disadvantages (confined space, poor ventilation, sub-optimal sound insulation, lack of daylight) all due to the necessity to integrate the booths into the meeting room. We could imagine generous, well-insulated booths with adequate ventilation, daylight and, why not, windows. In fact, if interpreting means doing office work (on a screen), we might as well have offices like all the other civil servants, just fitted with the necessary  technical equipment.

Strangely enough, the opposite seems to be the case.

It is not without reason that mobile booths, whose ventilation and soundproofing are suboptimal by definition (a mobile booth is the exception to a booth, which in itself constitutes an exception to labour law) are not planned as a permanent solution. It goes without saying that a booth should have a large front window, if only for reasons of visual ergonomics.

An ISO standard that falls below current standards could be the perfect pretext to justify a downward revision of working conditions. It would be a fait accompli prior to the negotiation of the Agreement which, it should be remembered, was negotiated between the trade unions and HR, assisted by the interpreters as experts ; a recast should happen in the same format. We need to get back to the table of a social dialogue worthy of the name with staff representatives to discuss acceptable working conditions for the staff concerned.

U4U, alongside European Parliament interpreters: a long-term solution sought for early 2023

U4U, alongside interpreters, a long-term solution hopefully by early 2023Thanks to a social dialogue initiated by some unions – U4U, USL and Ethos – the EP interpreters have obtained satisfaction on transitional measuresThe pandemic has changed the way we all work, especially interpreters. Interpreting is team work and used to be carried out on site. As a result of social distancing and work online, remote conferences and platforms have become a part of interpreters’ lives. Unfortunately, this new way of working has proven to be complex and even dangerous. It increases the cognitive load considerably and may even pose a risk to the hearing health of both interpreters and participants. Because of the lack of knowledge and experience at the beginning of the pandemic, 44% of EP staff interpreters suffered from hearing problems.But as platforms also have some practical advantages, we now know that online meetings and platforms are most likely here to stay, so it seems consistent to integrate them into the working conditions of interpreters in order to ensure health and safety in the workplace for all.Initially, the administration was reluctant to engage in dialogue. It took several strike notices by U4U and USL to bring them to constructive negotiations.For the first time, the social dialogue took place in the presence of the two unions that had launched the strike notice. Although Human Resources and DG Linc were initially hesitant about this approach, it resulted in an Interim Agreement on 17 October. The past two and a half months have been used to collect data and to prepare measures.A long-term agreement on working conditions is in sight for the beginning of 2023. We are convinced that by adopting the same format, a constructive collaboration between all actors, interpreters’ representatives, trade unions, DG Linc and Human Resources, it will be possible to find a satisfactory solution for both interpreters and administration.Beyond the good results obtained and the hope for the near future, this negotiation has shown the added value of a social dialogue conducted with the trade unions. This is a model for the future of social dialogue at the EP.


Interpreters’ delegation to the Commission: SCIC by-elections

The Commission’s Delegation of Interpreters (DI) began its mandate in October 2021. It has done a remarkable job, allowing it to function smoothly during the pandemic and then gradually return to normal.It worked hand in hand with the delegations of freelance interpreters and the European Parliament (EP). Hearing health while working on platforms is the subject of a resolution that was voted by 94% of the interpreters present at a joint General Assembly of Commission, EP, staff and freelance interpreters.In June 2022, three members (out of 9 in total) decided to leave the ID. The ID continued to function legitimately as allowed by its Rules of Procedure. The idea was to complement the SDI team to meet the impending challenges interpreters will face in defending their profession. On 3 October, by-elections (optional according to the Rules of Procedure) were requested from the CLP for this purpose. On 7 October, some interpreters called for a referendum to remove the current ID. However, their text does not mention any reason for this request.The CLP decided to proceed with the elections (the electoral board is convened, the call for candidates is open, voting will start on 6 December). The request for a referendum will then be processed.We call on interpreters to stand united and vote in the by-elections to complete the delegation. With this vote, you can ensure that interpreters are better represented. Let the ID (enlarged after the elections) do its work – it is by the results that it should be judged at the end of its mandate, as in any democracy.21/11/2022

Multilingualism Day 24 September 2022

Multilingualism Day 2022Multilingualism Day is your opportunity to go behind the scenes of the Parliament with the greatest linguistic diversity in the world: Get an idea of how the European Parliament works in 24 languages! Meet our interpreters, translators and other multilingual staff, learn more about their work and visit the Chamber.Multilingualism ensures that all EU citizens can follow the work of their democratic representatives in any of the 24 official languages. Linguistic and cultural diversity is one of the EU’s strengths. It is enshrined as a fundamental value in the EU Treaties. On Multilingualism Day in the Parliament, you can experience this diversity directly.Multilingualism Day 2022 will take place both online and on-site at the European Parliament in Brussels.But we should not forget that interpreters are protesting against their working conditions in the Parliament. Celebrating multilingualism should be accompanied by proper treatment of those who contribute to it.

U4U welcomes this event and reiterates its commitment to multilingualism, which has been an integral part of the European DNA since the very first European regulation (1958). This regulation broke with the practices of international organisations by making citizens, and not just states, the beneficiaries of European law. From the outset, it committed the European Union (then the European Economic Community) to publishing legal and political documents in all the official languages.

Respect for linguistic diversity reflects a radically new approach to supranational governance and anchors democracy in the construction of Europe. This commitment remains unchanged today. A recent example is the platform for the Conference on the Future of Europe, which was held from May 2021 to May 2022: discussions and contributions were able to take place in all the official languages of the Union with the help of automatic translation, and the conclusions should now guide the work of the institutions that committed themselves to it.

Join us on site or online to celebrate linguistic diversity and European democracy!

Documentation :

The European Union as intercultural mediator: multilingualism

Linguistic diversity and the French language in Europe

Interpreters : habemus pactum

U4U – Union syndicale Luxembourg – Ethos Europe

European Parliament: a successful negotiation with the unionsThe following inter-union leaflet reports on a successful negotiation with the unions. It is a practice that shows that social dialogue can achieve useful results for the staff and for the institution. We want this practice of social dialogue to become widespread.

Habemus pactum! A first step to a solution on interpreter working conditionsAs the old saying goes, where there’s a will there’s a way! The will we are talking about is that of the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola. Thanks to her personal commitment as guarantor of social dialogue in the House, an interim agreement was finally reached to launch negotiations between DG LINC, DG PERS, the interpreters’ representatives and the trade unions concerning interpreter working conditions in the new context of multilingual remote participation. We would like to wholeheartedly thank the President for giving social dialogue a chance and showing that she genuinely cares for the well-being of EP staff. We would like to thank the Head of Cabinet of President Metsola – Alessandro Chiocchetti – whose fairness, openness and pragmatism made the agreement possible. We were glad to see that he attaches great importance to multilingualism as an integral part of the legislative work of our Institution.We would also like to acknowledge the constructive spirit and contributions of all parties involved. The interpreters’ representatives showed once again their creativity and loyalty to the Institution by submitting workable proposals. The two trade unions who lodged the strike notice – U4U and USL – showed unwavering support for the interpreters’ cause and negotiated effectively by their side. DG LINC finally showed openness to accept balanced compromises.Of course, this interim agreement is just a first step towards a final understanding on more permanent rules. A lot of work remains to be done. We stand ready to engage in meaningful negotiations scheduled to start in the week of 7 November 2022 as agreed with our counterparts. On the other hand, we expect that DG LINC honour their commitments, including clear and timely information of all meeting organisers.Moreover, good sound quality and cooperative speaker behaviour are paramount to allow interpreters to do their job properly while interpreting remote speeches and to protect their health. Should those preconditions fail to materialise, interpreters might be unable to interpret despite their best efforts. Therefore, an enhanced awareness-raising campaign on a Code of Conduct on multilingual remote participation is a crucial commitment that DG LINC must live up to from the very beginning and for the entire duration of the negotiations and beyond.Any negotiation requires mutual trust. We are ready to do our part and for that we announce the withdrawal of the strike notice effective immediately. Now is the time for flexibility and pragmatism in full respect of staff health and decent working conditions. Like we said, where there’s a will there’s a way…


European Parliament: where do we stand on the conflict with interpreters?

During the pandemic, DG Linc in the Parliament started working on platforms very early on. The technology was thought to be safe, thanks to a pilot project. Unfortunately, it turned out that the technology chosen was not appropriate, 44% of staff interpreters are now affected by auditory problems.The EP interpreters’ delegation therefore sought dialogue with hierarchy to define a framework that would guarantee the health and safety of interpreters when interpreting speakers participating online.Unfortunately, this request was in vain and, even worse, without any social dialogue, the hierarchy decreed that platform work would be included in the pre-pandemic working conditions without further ado.But platform work is more tiring, the cognitive load is greater and the risk of being exposed to sound that is harmful to health is higher.The interpreters’ delegation tried again to communicate with the hierarchy but in vain.This final refusal of social dialogue was the last straw. In June 2022, the EP’s staff interpreters decided to take social action by working to rule. They went to work every day. They interpreted the speakers on the spot, but not the participants online.As there is no a framework agreement in the EP, the situation was likely to remain deadlocked. DG Linc decided not to requisition interpreters for the most important meetings, but to “outsource”: it hired non-accredited interpreters below tariff, which is a clear violation of the right to strike.It took several meetings between the interpreters, the Human Resources’ Director and a strong involvement of the EP President’s office and of the three trade-unions that supported the strike, U4U, Ethos and USL, to reach an agreement in principle in early October.Even if the details are still to be negotiated, this is finally a good example of social dialogue. To be continued.


Health and safety for interpreters!

On Friday 16 September, the first joint General Assembly of Commission and European Parliament interpreters, both staff and freelance, has taken place. The aim of this GA is to articulate the demands of all interpreters in the European institutions: Health and safety at work must be guaranteed.Indeed, having been declared critical staff for the functioning of the institutions, interpreters, both at the Commission and at the Parliament, have been physically present at work from the beginning of the pandemic. Unfortunately, it turned out that the technology chosen for remote meetings was not appropriate. The result was an unprecedented incidence of hearing problems (vertigo, nausea, hyperacusis, tinnitus, loss of frequencies, etc.) among interpreters. At the Parliament, which has used this technology on a larger scale, 44% of interpreters suffer from acoustic problems, at DG SCIC, 27 people have self-reported to the Interpreters’ Delegation, 16 of them with medical certificates.In order to avoid long-term disabilities and to ensure a safe environment for both interpreters and all participants in meetings, the Interpreters’ Delegations request:- On site participation as soon as reasonably possible (Commission and EP staff in Brussels, present in another building in the European district) ;- Adaptation of the working conditions (legislative framework) to take into account the specificities of remote interpretation ;- An obligation for active online participants to use peripherals (microphones) and connection settings that allow compliance with ISO standards ;- Support from all trade unions, especially for the EP interpreters’ work-to-rule, which up to now is only supported by Ethos, USL and U4U.

Resolution of the General Meeting

Why are European Parliament interpreters on strike?

Why are European Parliament interpreters on strike?U4U is one of the two trade unions supporting EP interpreters and Delint (EP interpreters’ delegation) in their strike for decent working conditions. They denounce a worrying situation that affects the hearing health of the whole profession, even of all participants in remote meetings. This article is a useful read.In fact, under the current legal and technical circumstances interpretation from the floor is provided, but no remote speeches are interpreted. The EP interpreters’ struggle concerns all staff and in particular SCIC, the Commission’s Directorate-General for Interpretation.U4U supports this action as well as the interpreters’ demands :

  • An immediate end to the illegal hiring of « strike-breakers » by the EP (non-accredited interpreters, hired via an external service provider under non-compliant conditions) and negotiations for a minimum service as practiced in the main European institutions;
  • Closing the legal vacuum by including work on platforms (Interactio etc.) in the negotiated working conditions;
  • Ensuring health and safety at the workplace by a mandatory use of appropriate devices (microphones etc.) by the participants.U4U asks the EP administration not to block the social dialogue, which is the only way to solve this conflict in the interest of the Institution and the staff.


The EP unilaterally introduces new working conditions for interpreters

Two unions (U4U and USL) give notice of a strike by interpreters at the EP and denounce a flagrant lack of social dialogue

Letter from U4U dated 27 June 2022

Dear Madam President

I would like to thank you for your reply to the strike notice concerning the interpreters at the EP. I would also like to thank you for your willingness to pursue social dialogue, without which we cannot achieve a good climate within the institution. I would also like to draw your attention to your administration’s practice of using a non-accredited external sub-contractor to replace striking staff under degraded conditions. As a reminder, requisition procedures exist in the European institutions for the benefit of all, but are ignored at the EP. The practices that your administration is proposing to introduce do not correspond either to the spirit or to the rules of a European civil service. If such practices became known to the outside world, for example through the press, the good image of the European Parliament, to which we, like you, are committed, would be seriously compromised.

U4U will be represented this afternoon at the social dialogue meeting proposed by you, by a member of its management: Maria Lengenfelder. I would like to ensure that other useful participants are also present for the rest of the dialogue via a remote connection.

Finally, as we have had the opportunity to discuss with Mr Knudsen, we believe that the framework agreement governing relations between staff representation and the institution is largely obsolete and needs to be reformed. The absence of a modern framework governing industrial relations within the EP partly explains the current deadlock.

Thank you for your attention to this letter. Please accept, Madam President, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Georges Vlandas

Letter to President Roberta Metsola

Dear Madam President,

First of all we would like to thank you for your reply and for listening to the interpreters’ representatives. We sincerely hope that your commitment is the beginning of a process to reach a satisfactory solution for all parties concerned in the interests of our Institution. We will take part in the meeting called by the Director-General of DG PERS on your behalf for tomorrow at 14.30. Let us take this opportunity to ask you to give mandate to a representative of your cabinet to attend the meeting and follow the entire process until a final solution is found.

We would like to stress that it is very unfortunate that such meeting is not held earlier as it will coincide with the beginning of the programmed industrial action. In spite of that, we will make a constructive contribution as we have always done.

However, we regret to inform you that DG LINC Management does not seem to share our will to negotiate a way out of the current impasse with openness and good faith. They have decided to provide the simultaneous interpretation service for a number of meetings (e.g. AFET Interparliamentary Committee meeting of tomorrow 27 June 2022) by resorting to an external provider, namely Kudo. The AFET team will cover 24 languages and will be composed of two interpreters per booth. The interpreters were recruited with a half-day contract, they were asked whether they were familiar with Interactio but were not told who their client would be. Such information was disclosed to them only after signing the contract. Such unprecedented and extreme decision by DG LINC is problematic for many reasons from an operational, legal and social dialogue point of view.

From an operational standpoint, not all recruited interpreters are accredited to work for EU institutions. EU accreditation has always been a guarantee of the professional quality of freelance interpreters and has always allowed the EP to provide the high-quality interpretation service that MEPs and other meeting participants rely on for their work. This guarantee has now been brushed aside by DG LINC’s rash decision.

Secondly, the team originally assigned to the AFET meeting was partly composed of staff interpreters. Those colleagues have been taken out of the meeting and not all of them have been redeployed to other meetings. This shows a cavalier management of scarce human and financial resources.

Thirdly, many interpreters on the team will be working from home, thereby increasing the chance of technical incidents and lowering the overall quality of interpretation.

This decision is unheard of in that statutory meetings had always been serviced in-house even before the pandemic and even during peak periods of the interinstitutional calendar, when the market was virtually depleted of accredited freelance interpreters. By proceeding in this fashion, DG LINC has deliberately breached a number of rules in force.

Firstly, the decision constitutes a flagrant violation of the right of collective bargaining and action enshrined in Article 28 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Instead of negotiating a solution to the current conflict, DG LINC has decided to replace their staff with external staff, thereby de facto emptying the right of collective bargaining and action of its meaning. Moreover, DG LINC is in breach of Article 31 on fair and just working conditions of the Charter, which lays down that “every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity”. Faced with a collective action from their own staff who are trying to protect their health against toxic sound, DG LINC not only neglected their duty of care by not protecting the interpreters’ health, but they also externalised the problem by exposing external staff to the same hazard.

Secondly, the interpretation arrangement in question is in breach of the Agreement on Working Conditions and the Pecuniary Regime for Auxiliary Conference Interpreters (ACIs) recruited by the Institutions of the European Union as well as the Conditions of Employment of Other Servants of the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. The former does not allow half-day contracts, whereas the latter lays down that freelance interpreters are subject to the same working conditions as staff interpreters when they work for the European Parliament. DG LINC has therefore opted for social dumping at the European Parliament, the institutions that champions workers’ rights.

Thirdly, Article 10.1 of the Interpreters’ Working Conditions concerning manning strength has been flouted as only two interpreters per booth have been deployed to the meeting instead of three interpreters per booth.

Fourthly, DG LINC has breached Article 3.1 of the Code of Conduct on Multilingualism (Bureau decision of 1 July 2019), which states that interpretation for statutory meetings “shall be provided exclusively by the Directorate-general for Logistics and Interpretation for Conferences”, i.e. with the deployment of staff interpreters and accredited freelance interpreters.

All of the above is a very bad omen for the process that is about to start under your auspices. DG LINC is once again failing to recognise the importance of social dialogue in the House. Regrettably, DG PERS has adopted the same policy: according to the rules in force concerning industrial action and strike, DG PERS should have used the five-day notice to negotiate the scope and practicalities of a guaranteed minimum service with the trade unions who had submitted the strike warning. Today’s AFET interparliamentary meeting could have been included in such minimum service and the interpreters would have guaranteed the simultaneous interpretation service. Instead, DG PERS’s Director-General, Mr Knudsen, wrote to the trade unions on 24 June (7 days after the strike warning was sent) to invite them to a meeting on 27 June, that is the first day of collective action. That shows utter disrespect for the rules and the interlocutors. This is not the first time that DG PERS ignores the rules on work stoppages. The European Parliament was condemned by the Court of Justice in Ruling No. T-402/18 for unlawful mass requisitions of interpreters.

In light of the above, we ask that DG LINC’s decision on the provision of the interpretation service for the AFET Interparliamentary meeting taking place today and for any other meetings with a similar arrangement be revoked and that staff interpreters and accredited freelance interpreters recruited directly by DG LINC according to the lawful procedure be assigned to those meetings. Furthermore, we ask that a negotiation on a regulatory framework on multilingual remote participation be launched as soon as possible with a view to finding an agreement before the summer recess. As a sign of goodwill, and despite the fact that DG PERS has not approached us to negotiate a minimum service as they should have done according to Article 6 of the Annex to the Framework Agreement of 1990 between the EP and the OSPs, we are willing to call off the actions for tomorrow, 27 June 2022.

Yours sincerely,

U4U     USL

Lettre from the President (Original en FR)

Dear members of the Bureau of the Delegation of staff interpreters,

I would like to thank you for the fruitful meeting we had last Thursday and for our open and comprehensive discussions on the situation concerning remote interpretation in the European Parliament.

I acknowledge that without your dedication it would not have been possible to continue our work throughout the pandemic and on behalf of our Institution I thank you.

Following the lapse of the extraordinary measures on 12 June 2022, we are currently moving towards new working methods of committees, allowing Members to intervene remotely under specific circumstances. The Constitutional Affairs Committee is tasked to propose the necessary changes to the Rules of Procedure in this regard. It is now our shared responsibility to ensure the carrying out of all necessary activities of the Parliament in the best possible way, after a very difficult period for all. I have carefully listened and examined your requests and I am fully committed to assist in finding appropriate solutions in the interest of our Institution.

I have therefore asked Parliament’s administration to start gathering all relevant information in order to properly assess the impact remote interventions under the new working methods of committees will have on the interpretation services you provide.

Moreover, by letter attached to this email, I informed the trade unions U4U and Union Syndicale Luxembourg that I have tasked Mr Kristian Knudsen, Director General for Personnel, along with Ms Agnieszka Walter-Drop, Director General for Logistics and Interpretation for Conferences, and our medical service, to begin a social dialogue with a view to reach a common position in the interest of the service and the smooth running of Parliament.

The social dialogue, of which I am the guarantor, has now started. As you rightly pointed out in an email earlier, a strike would be disruptive for the Parliament’s functioning and stressful for everyone involved. I therefore believe that the social dialogue should be given the chance it deserves to address the problems you raised in our meeting and to allow Members of Parliament to fully exercise their mandate.

I am sure that the discussions starting on Monday will bear their fruit. You can count on my engagement and my full support as I do on your sense of responsibility as demonstrated throughout the last two years.

Best regards,

Roberta Metsola

President’s reply of 22 June 2022

Strike notice sent on 17 June 2022 Extension of strike notice until 12 September 2022

Exchange of e-mails between the unions to prepare strike notice.

Health of Hearing I – Health of Hearing II

Commission interpreters need our support

The Commission’s interpreters need our supportThe pandemic hit interpreters hard. This profession has been very flexible and has shown great resilience and goodwill.Interpreters were declared critical personnel and have been on deck since the first hour.Social distancing measures and the cramped space of an interpreting booth are not compatible.During the first lockdown, the Interpreters’ Delegation agreed with the administration on interim working conditions to ensure the continuity of the institutions’ operations (Business Continuity). These exemptions from normal working conditions were limited to the first lockdown.Unfortunately, the SCIC administration did not respect this time limit. Today, two years after the start of the pandemic, the working conditions of interpreters are in a state of flux.While the workload has indeed increased again, violations of working conditions that put the health of interpreters and the possibility of providing quality work in question are accumulating.In order to avoid a general exhaustion, the Interpreters’ Delegation therefore asked for a codification of derogations : sustainable working conditions respecting both quality and health requirements were to be negotiated for the period of the crisis.These negotiations started in December and have not yet been concluded. The Interpreters’ Delegation is constructive, it has made concessions wherever reasonable and responsible. It wishes to find a solution that allows SCIC to function while guaranteeing the health of the interpreters and the quality of their services.However, while these solutions, applied with some skill, should be fairly low cost, they would not be for free. SCIC needs budgetary support by the Commission. SCIC cannot finance the legitimate compensation for crisis measures during a pandemia from its budget alone.What is unacceptable, however, is to pass the disadvantages of working under in a pandemic only to the interpreters, both statutory and freelance.The Service is chronically understaffed. Several interpreters have chosen early retirement because of deteriorating working conditions. As to free-lance interpreters, the cost of the quarantines of freelance interpreters due to stricter tracing conditions at the Commission than in Belgium cannot be financed by cancelling freelance contracts that are considered contact-cases according to the (stricter) Commission rules, but not according to Belgian rules. Some freelancers avoid SCIC engagements as much as possible.And yet, SCIC cannot function with the necessary flexibility without freelance interpreters.Interpreters need the support of the Commission, also in the face of the Council, SCIC’s most important client, in this crisis management effort.Negotiations have reached an impasse.U4U considers that CLP and even the unions must be involved.We call for an inter-union meeting to finally resolve this problem, which is unworthy of a major European employer.


Letter from CLP Brussels to DG SCIC dated 09/02/2022

Dear Director-General

The Bureau of the Commission’s Staff Committee in Brussels has today been informed of an intense social dialogue currently underway at SCIC. This dialogue concerns the work of interpreters during a pandemic. We understand that, for the time being, the dialogue has not led to a solution acceptable to our interpreter colleagues. A final meeting is scheduled for next Thursday.

Beyond this deadline, in the absence of an agreement, and after discussing it with you, we will ask the trade unions to resume discussions. The rules governing the profession of interpreter were established in the past following an agreement with the trade unions. In the absence of an agreement with the delegation, any departure from these rules must be discussed with these same trade unions. The CLP intends to alert them to this prospect. Finally, the CLP is aware that the solution to the problems discussed cannot be the responsibility of your General Management alone. In order to meet the legitimate expectations of interpretation staff, whether officials or freelancers, SCIC needs the support of the Commission. And CLP supports such an approach.

I look forward to meeting you. Please accept, Madam, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Georges Vlandas
Chairman of the Commission’s CLP in Brussels

Coming out of confinement at SCIC: taking maximum account of staff wishes

It’s time to get out of confinement. Some are trying to get back to the way things were before, while others are continuing to work from home. For the interpreters, it’s trial and error. During the confinement, meetings with participants and interpreters had become impossible. In search of an alternative, DG SCIC has gone down the road of videoconferencing, with all its attendant complexities (see more below).

The time has come to break the confinement. Some are trying to get back to the way things were before, while others are continuing to work from home. For interpreters, the backbone of international institutions and truly multilingual, it’s a trial and error situation. During the confinement, meetings with participants and interpreters present had become impossible. In search of an alternative, DG SCIC went down the road of videoconferencing, with all its attendant complexities.

Slowly, normal meetings are resuming. The objective being understanding, wearing a mask is problematic. The sound quality with a mask is probably close to that of a participant with a poor internet connection, but talking for a long time with a mask is very tiring. Distancing yourself is therefore all the more important. But there’s a problem here too!

An interpreting booth is cramped, 3.20m x 1.80m x 2.30m for three people in normal circumstances, which corresponds to a volume of air of just over 4m3 per person. This is minimal compared with Belgian legislation, which stipulates an air volume of 10m3 per person for work spaces in normal operation.

What’s more, distancing, even with a mask, is designed for large ventilated spaces and short exposures – yet face-to-face meetings last several hours. So a solution had to be found. Initially, SCIC opted for the approach of not having interpreters of the same language working in the same booth: they were divided between several booths so that one booth (disinfected) was occupied by only one person.

This system can work, but only when the number of languages spoken is relatively limited. (Option taken by the European Parliament, which limits itself to working with only 8 languages). The number of rooms equipped with a sufficient number of booths makes it impossible to offer all the working languages at the same time in several conferences.

The Council, particularly impatient to resume working in a face-to-face configuration, therefore examined several possibilities: a complement using mobile booths, a solution that would prove impossible given the lack of cooperation from the system supplier; coupling two rooms, which would appear to be technically impossible (in the 21st century?); and finally separating the booths with Plexiglas to accommodate two interpreters.

It was this last option that won out at the Council: a plexiglass window separating the two halves of the booth (independent as far as air-conditioning is concerned, we are told), but leaving an open space towards the ceiling and the back of the booth (50cm and 1m respectively). Both the Commission’s and the Council’s Medical Services gave the go-ahead, while the European Parliament’s Medical Service deemed the risk too high and rejected the proposal.

(On 4 June, interpreters were faced with a fait accompli and had to refuse to work with this system, for which an official position from the SCIC is still awaited).

How can a solution deemed dangerous by the European Parliament be safe by the Council? Can the Medical Service be sure that the risk involved will be acceptable? Has it surrounded itself with the necessary expertise? As a reminder, in the Member States, pandemic measures have been defined by pools of specialists in the field. Has the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (CPPT) been consulted?

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to apply the precautionary principle and push for solutions 1 and 2 (mobile cabins or coupled rooms), or at least to improve the separation so that it really divides the cabin in two?

Sensitivities about future working conditions differ, which is understandable. Everyone has their own life and is entitled to their own opinion.

But face-to-face meetings mean participants who have travelled through stations and airports, colleagues who know each other and whose lives will have returned to normal, including contact between children in nurseries and schools. To avoid the risks, let’s take every precaution.


See also the European Parliament dossier…

A heads-up on plexiglas and some pieces of information.


Breaking news: Plexiglas, Interactio, working in the Council.

The Delegation is writing to you directly for the first time in months. During those months, we’ve been present on the forums where we’ve encouraged discussion to take place in the hope that this would bring the service together and keep a sense of “one service” at a difficult time.

It’s partly been successful with some very long and interesting threads, but the ID has also been told that we should resume more formal email type communication.

We have, of course, done everything possible to engage constructively with management on the big issues of the day: the plight of our AIC colleagues, returning safely to the booth, keeping the service working (including the smaller booths) and working conditions for platforms.

We have agreed working rules for platforms that are “interim” pending proper negotiations, we form part of a “task force” which studies all the Rapports de Séance and the questionnaires that come from interpreters working platforms, we agreed at the GTP level and with heavy conditions, to go down the plexiglas path in an attempt to get the smaller booths back in the saddle in the council, but opted not to in the EESC because the airflows are not convincing. That doesn’t conclude the matter in the EESC but means that more work needs to be done. More on Plexiglas below.

Sadly, there are still issues with many files.

  • We had a meeting this morning with the CLP and representatives of two staff trades unions to discuss the recent petition for AICs. This is an AIIC dossier but representatives of the ID will be present on Wednesday when the CLP meet with our Director General and AIIC
  • During the same meeting, we confirmed and were comforted by promises of full support from the CLP and two unions if –as we have at times feared- we are forced down the road of a “concertation”-based negotiation under the framework agreement in the presence of the unions, SCIC and DG HR in order to obtain reasonable working conditions for the platforms.
  • At lunchtime today, we met with the DG and her Directors in order to explore an alarming development in our relationship with the Council Secretariat. It appears that the GSC would find difficulties working within the framework of the four scenarios which we have agreed for platforms with the Programming Unit. In turn, we informed management that staff would not be able to accept working for the Council on platforms under standard working conditions. (particularly since at the moment, standard working conditions means two per booth even in some large regimes and in plexiglas). Management appeared to understand our message that 4 hour sessions, à deux, without break, on platforms, in the council working environment would bring the staff out in droves. A General Assembly has been penciled in for September if our belief (that we see eye-to-eye with top management on this) is not confirmed.

Finally, a note on plexiglas. During a test of the partitions that took place in the Berlaymant Schuman room this week, a source of smoke was used to test how efficient the partitions are at preventing aerosols or, in this instance, fine white smoke, from transiting to the other side of the booth if the partition doesn’t reach the ceiling. In short, they don’t. If smoke is emitted at head height whilst standing, it drifts straight over the partition and settles gently on the other side.

This is bad news because the partitions in the Council rooms also don’t reach the roof of the booths. Therefor we are issuing this warning to colleagues after raising it with management. We’ve also asked for tests with smoke to be carried out in the Council. We stopped short of asking that meetings stop in plexi equipped rooms in the Council on the basis that smoke emitted at mouth level (where you’d be working) did not make it to the other side and that the airflows in Council buildings are slightly different in that a more forceful down flow is produced. A suivre.

There are other issues which were not discussed in either of our meetings today but which are on our radar. They appear in telegraphic form below. We will post this on the forums as well, because our AIC colleagues stay in the loop that way and we like the idea that sometimes it generates discussions – which will stay firmly within the moderation policy, will they not.


The problem.

Two interpreters per active language are assigned to meetings with more than 6 passive languages. This is a breach of the Agreement. It stems from a letter the D.I wrote on March 13 to the Director General where we proposed measures for the immediate health crisis and only where the number of languages and meetings were kept to the absolute minimum: see (DI FFH 13 March)

If we make the assumption that plexiglas dividers will ultimately be adopted more or less everywhere, then SCIC’s intention is clearly that this infringement of the rules will persist until the end of social distancing. I.E sometime next year when a vaccine is available.

Therefore many colleagues who have never really experienced two per booth work must assume it is their new normal.

It will increase relay and lower quality.

The solution

An end date: either July 31, or end of week on week off or end of phase 2

Interactio: a fortiori there is no reason to allow irregular assignments of two per booth for regimes above 6 passive languages yet that seems to be happening.


The problem

Programming do not apply rules to video conference interpreting in consecutive mode or webex because “it’s not a platform” despite the worse sound and greater stress (e.g. impossible to dialogue with speaker)

The solution

Apply rules according to length. For example:

<4 hours: two chevaux and 30’ break after 2h OR No break and NAB

>4 hours: two monolinguals plus one Cheval. No break. No NAB

Max 6 hours