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European Union: deal or no deal?

On the end of the negotiations on the revision of the AIIC-EU Convention.

Dear colleagues,

On 13 November, 14 months of negotiating about the revision of the AIIC-EU Convention came to an end.  The result is widely met with praise for our negotiating team who managed to fend off the outrageous initial demands put forward by the Institutions and settle for an overall acceptable compromise package. Some colleagues, among them Phil Smith who initiated a chain letter campaign, are unhappy with the outcome and call for rejecting it at the sector meeting which will be called to ratify the agreement reached at the negotiating table.

Evidently, everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion. But before deciding one way or the other, one should get one's facts right:

The revision of parts of the AIIC-EU Convention was demanded by the EU Institutions, not by AIIC. The sector made it clear that it was content with present pay and working conditions, and it gave its elected negotiators the mandate not to accept wage cuts or additional categories over and above the existing two category system. This mandate was fulfilled.

Obviously, one cannot expect to enter negotiations with a shopping list of demands and come out with all items neatly packed in the shopping basket.  Indeed, the EU Institutions learnt that the hard way: the only things they got out of a very charged list are

  • the partial (!) flexibility of our travel conditions, with a series of exceptions and protective clauses, in line with conditions applied to our staff colleagues and with the general practice in today's flight industry, for private and professional travel;
  • and 250 days for the beginners' category instead of 100.

In return, not only our fees and two category system remained untouched, but (contrary to what Phil Smith claims) our negotiators got better conditions in several areas, not least for work on missions, training, time off rules, etc.

I do not pretend the result of the negotiations is ideal, but it is a more than decent package, and it is what the colleagues we unanimously elected to negotiate on our behalf tell us they could get. I trust these colleagues. I have seen them at work for many years. The key members of the delegation are the ones who defied the Tanzilli administration and led us in our successful battle to keep the AIIC-EU Convention when it was supposed to be replaced by a recruiting scheme making use of a commercial agency.  They are the ones who led us in our successful battle to get the community tax back, and with a solid legal base.  If these colleagues who have proven their trustworthiness, their competence, their dedication to our common cause, who have respected the terms of the mandate we gave them, tell me now, after 14 months of hard work, that this is how far they could go, I trust them once again.

Think about it, and about something else: Phil Smith says that "the threat of the institutions walking away from the agreement has been dangled in front of us". Here are the facts:

If the sector says "No deal", the Convention will be denounced by the Institutions.  Both parties will have 12 months to negotiate a new one - or not. In any case, the entire text will then be off the table. Negotiations will have to start from scratch, and not in a better climate than what we have just witnessed. The present negotiating team will obviously not step into the ring again. Who would? And who could get a better deal?

Think about it. And come to the meetings organised by the delegation this week Tuesday in Brussels, and in January in Strasbourg (one has already been held in Luxembourg).  Ask our negotiators your questions, tell them your concerns. Make up your mind upon serious reflection. I trust you'll come to the same conclusion that I have come to: Let's call it a deal!

Silke Gebhard
DE booth, Ex-negotiator in the EU sector, Coordinator of AIIC's Standing Committee for the Agreement Sectors


Recommended citation format:
Silke GEBHARD. "European Union: deal or no deal?". aiic.net December 18, 2007. Accessed June 2, 2020. <http://aiic.net/p/2845>.



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Comments 7

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Cecilia RYDBECK

   

I have a number of questions and comments concerning the various letters relating to the negociations with the EU and the outcome of these negociations:

1) When did the consultations requested by the Institutions turn into negociations? I remember clearly that when the consultations were launched Michel Lesseigne said, when people were worried, that for the moment there was no reason for this because we were only talking about consultations for the moment anyway.

2) I agree with the letter sent by Phil Smith recently because he underlines the fact that we have been seriously had.

3) We are not receiving anything "in exchange" which is what normally happens in negociations: these "negociations" have been extremely one-sided, unfortunately.

4) Colleagues are afraid of what would happen if we reject the proposed changes and, of course, the situation would not be easy: but some colleagues are also afraid that we would suddenly, from one day to the next, live in a void and that, IF the Institutions were to terminate the agreement any future negociations would start from scratch: however that would most certainly not be the case: in collective bargaining negociations, when things go pear-shaped, negociations go on on the basis of the existing agreement in an effort to solve the problems which led to the negociations breaking down! And I am convinced that the Institutions would not throw away everything in an agreement that has worked well for so many years and which, also, is extremely favourable to the Institutions.

4) The travel conditions are not really good, either. For many destinations there is no such thing as "semi flexible" tickets. Even with the current provisions it happens (too) often that one has to refuse contracts in other venues than the domicile simply because it is far too complicated trying to work out how to get from Brussels to the other venue and, above all, to try and convince the SCIC people that one is not trying to cheat!

5) 250 days to go from cat. 2 to 1: This is probably ok for colleagues based in Brussels, but for others it will take years before they can change categories. To compare with AIIC: when I became a member 30 years ago it took me 7 years to get the 200 days required then. And there must have been a reason why AIIC decided, at the Brussels assembly, if I'm not mistaken, to lower the number of days required to 150...And with the Institutions we would accept a huge increase!

6) Some people also seem to fear that we might "lose" the Community tax IF the agreement were terminated, but I find that difficult to understand: I thought that it was the Council which had decided on that. And what is the link between the two? Would it really be legal to act in that way? I can see that there might be problems if there were NO agreement at all, but I really don't think that it would come to that.

7) Some colleagues have mentioned the UN situation some years ago as an example of what happens when things go wrong: but as far as I know the agreement wasn't terminated, most colleagues went on working for the UN family and when negociations were held they discussed (and solved) the problems which had caused the break-down, not the rest, as far as I know.

I really think that we are underestimating our position: I think it is highly unlikely that the Institutions would introduce a system whereby they would have to negociate with each interpreter individually! It would create chaos and they still need interpreters, at least for the time being. Someone mentioned the situation of the translators in the EU, but as far as I can see their situation was quite different: they didn't have an AIIC which had negociated an agreement a long time ago and which is still defending the interests of conference interpreters!

Of course, I am not saying that things will be easy if we were to decide to reject the proposals from the Institutions but I'm beginning to think that that is the only alternative. I also think that all the happy comments from the EP and the SCIC about the outcome of the negociations long before the Sector has had its say were highly inappropriate and "suspicious".

It is a very difficult situation and I would really like to thank the delegation for all its hard work! It is definitely not that I don't trust the delegation which has done its very best, but I'm still not convinced that what has been achieved is really acceptable. Luckily there is still some time to discuss all these points before the final decision has to be made at the Sectoral meeting.

I hope that you realise that these comments are not meant as criticism but come from someone who really doesn't know how to decide. I also have the feeling that the way in which the institutions treat us shows that they don't really take us seriously and I find that offensive.

Cecilia Rydbeck

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Luigi LUCCARELLI

   

I believe that our agreements, especially the two big ones, are of great import to the profession and to the association as a whole. I offer the following general comment in the spirit of discussion, not to back any position.

As Iouri implies, the idea of pushing the number of days required for change of status to 250, is not a matter to take lightly. I can think of several questions.

1. Will the change actually help newcomers enter the profession? I can imagine that this could be argued and I would like to hear someone argue it. In other words, how would you explain to newcomers that this change is at least partially to their benefit?

2. Has there been any discussion on how the 250 days will be calculated? Only days worked for the EU institutions? What about retroactivity? Can colleagues already in group I, but with fewer than 250 days now be relegated?

3. For the first time that I know of, the number of days required to enter AIIC will be less than the number of days for change of status in an organization. That may mean something or it may not; I would like to hear people's take on it.

4. It has been said that if this partial agreement is not approved by interpreters, the EU will renouce the whole agreement. Excuse by igorance, but have they said that for the record?

5. Has there been any committment on the part of the EU to refrain from reopening these - or other aspects - of the agreement if we sign on? If so, for how long? If not, did the question come up in discussions? One argument in favor of approving this deal would be a period of peace for the sector. That illusion has proven to be delusory in the past, and not exactly because of us.

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Iouri OSTROVSKI

   

Je voudrais apporter une vision de quelqu'un qui ne travaille pas énormément dans le secteur ce qui devrait, tout au moins théoriquement, me permettre d'approcher les résultats d'une manière moins passionnée.

Il est évident pour moi que nous avons ici la meilleure équipe de négociation possible qui a obtenu de glorieux résultats par le passé. Il est également évident que ce fait ne peut pas à lui seul constituer une raison pour accepter tout ce que cette équipe pourrait aujourd'hui nous proposer. Il peut arriver que la meilleure équipe du monde n'arrive pas à avoir des résultats acceptables malgré tous leurs efforts et ne pas les accepter ne voudrait en aucun cas signifier l'ingratitude ou non-reconnaissance d'énormes efforts déployés par des collègues.

Ces principes de bases posés, il convient maintenant de voir si les propositions qui nous sont faites par les institutions sont acceptables ou pas et juger les résultats de négociations selon leurs propres mérites et en dehors de toute discussion passionnée.

Si en effet les négociations n'ont pas été demandées par AIIC il est tout de même dommage de constater que le secteur, tout en sachant que les institutions allaient au départ présenter des exigences extravagantes pour obtenir ensuite ce qu'elles voulaient vraiment, n'ait pas mandaté la DN de faire des demandes toutes aussi démesurées et lui ait juste demandé de ne pas accepter une baisse de salaires ou une création de nouvelles catégories ce qui a réduit le champ de manœuvre de la DN. Du coup on a fait les concessions sans vraiment une grande contrepartie. Cela est d'autant plus étonnant que le secteur EU est celui où le besoin des institutions en interprètes est le plus fort parmi toutes les secteurs conventionnés – les institutions européennes ne peuvent tout simplement pas fonctionner sans interprètes. C'est donc logiquement là où nous devions avoir les positions de négociations les plus fortes. Or si dans d'autres secteurs les négociations de cette année (ONU, coordonnées) ont permis de gagner du terrain (ONU – augmentations, sauf pour l'instant NY; coordonnées – rétablissement du deproche) ici au contraire nous sommes en train d'abandonner "flat rate travel allowance" que de nombreux collègues appellent à juste titre "la prime d'emmerdement" –au lieu de rester avec votre famille le soir vous êtes obligé aller ailleurs, et cela sans aucune contrepartie maintenant.

Mais cela n'est pas tout. Nos conditions de voyage changent. Est-ce acceptable? Il est clair que cela peut compromettre la flexibilité pour accepter d'autres contrats par ailleurs. Cependant et au risque de décevoir les partisans du "non" à l'accord je dirais que les billets entièrement flexibles ne sont plus vraiment dans l'air du temps et nous pourrions accepter le sémi-flex pourvu que cela soit bien défini, et notamment:

1. l'engagement des institutions d'utiliser les compagnies régulières et non pas des low-cost du genre Easyjet ou Ryanair.

2. l'engagement de permettre à l'interprète de prendre un avion plus tôt en cas d'annulation du dernier jour ou une fin de la réunion plus tôt que prévu avec les pénalités remboursées par les institutions. Dans ce cadre il sera nécessaire de clarifier la disposition contenue dans le message de la DN d'octobre : " Penalties or fare increases incurred by changes to programme assignments (e.g.cancellation of final day at Court, meeting finishing early on mission) require prior consultation of relevant official." Il est clair que s'il faut consulter le SCIC/Parlement pour leur demander la permission de prendre l'avion plus tôt quand on se trouve à l'autre bout de l'Europe/monde, cela vide la flexibilité de son sens : l'interprète sera obligé d'engager les dépenses téléphoniques pour trouver la bonne personne à l'autre bout de sa ligne portable avec une forte probabilité que cette personne lui dira qu'il lui faut attendre son avion pendant 5 heures à l'aéroport car le changement coûtera trop cher. Cette possibilité devrait donc à mon sens être accordée d'office. A cette condition nous pourrions accepter le semi-flex.

La deuxième concession majeure est l'augmentation de nombre de jours nécessaires pour passer au tarif supérieur. Est-ce acceptable?

Il faut voir le but de cette disposition qui, comme pour les billets d'avion, n'est rien d'autre que faire des économies. Comment est-ce possible si on accepte l'augmentation du nombre de jours pour passer à la vitesse supérieure? En engageant les "jeunes collègues" pendant plus longtemps (250 jours dans la proposition). Quelles conséquences pour les autres? La diminution évidente de leur attractivité pour l'employeur du fait qu'ils coûtent plus chers que les "jeunes" conjuguée au fait que les "jeunes" deviennent dispo au tarif intérieur pendant bien plus longtemps.

Il est certain qu'avec cette disposition les interprètes qui ont déjà la chance d'être dans la catégorie supérieure vont se tirer une balle dans le pied. Mais ce n'est pas tout: en acceptant l'augmentation énorme de nombre de jours pour passer au tarif supérieur nous hypothéquons les intérêts des "jeunes" collègues qui seront obligés de tramer beaucoup plus longtemps pour être payer décemment. Evidemment ils vont travailler plus que les autres car moins chers mais quid de leur santé au bout de ces 5-7 ans?

J'estimerais personnellement que s'il y avait une seule proposition qu'on ne devrait pas accepter cela serait bien celle-là: on ne peut pas brader les intérêts des entrants sur le marché. Il en va de la solidarité entre les générations. On a toujours dit que les fondateurs de l'AIIC ont su créer les conditions pour protéger les intérêts des interprètes, il serait dommage que l'AIIC abandonne maintenant les jeunes à leur triste sort.

Je suis désolé de ne pas avoir su écrire un message moins long. Juste une dernière chose: l'acceptation ou non-acceptation de ces propositions ne doit pas être dictée par la peur que les institutions dénoncent la convention actuelle mais uniquement en fonction de mérites de ces propositions et de leur acceptabilité pour la profession. Les institutions ont au moins autant besoin de cette convention que nous, voire encore plus. L'histoire récente des négociations à l'ONU et aux coordonnées et celle plus vieille des batailles à l'UE montre que les interprètes ont toujours su convaincre les organisations de leur intérêt d'avoir un accord.

Ce n'est pas pour cela qu'il faut obligatoirement rejeter cet accord mais il faut vraiment réfléchir si c'est effectivement dans notre intérêt d'accepter un accord avec des concessions aussi importantes qui vont toucher toute la nouvelle génération d'interprètes.

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Michael LUCAS

   

I strongly agree with Phil Smith on this one.

At the November meeting in Strasbourg, at which the negotiating delegation told us of the results of their last-ditch attempts to keep the ball rolling, there was a certain feeling from some quarters that to object to the draft agreement reached with the Institutions to date was openly to criticise the efforts of our representatives and that we should now ratify the results and be grateful things had not been worse. But the results of the negotiation are only a pointer for our next steps. We cannot afford to squabble over this issue - this would only be playing into the hands of the institutions, fiddling while Babylon burns.

I believe that if we all hold firm and reject this current proposal, then we have everything to gain. We are strong and capable of hammering out a new deal with the institutions, one in which we can call the shots. If our current delegation feels up to the task, I am sure we will all back them, as we have to date. If they feel they have gone as far as they can and prefer to hand over the reins, then I am sure likewise that others will come forward to play their part in future negotiations.

To view this as a clash between those who applaud the delegation's efforts and those who would ungratefully scorn them is both unrealistic and unfair.

Mike lucas 18/12/07

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Philip H. D. SMITH

   

Silke writes in reaction to an email I sent to some colleagues at the weekend. To be honest I saw it more as a pebble in the pond than a chain letter campaign. And it certainly created some ripples…

I agree that the interpreters did not ask for negotiations to be opened, but that changes nothing.

The mandate given to the negotiating delegation was vague and open ended. The idea of a mandate is as much to show the other side that the sector is united and means business.

Shopping list: the EU entered the negotiations with extreme demands because they wanted us to concede on travel and on categories. They have not come away disappointed from the talks as we seem minded to give them what they set out to achieve.

There are improvements in areas like missions, training etc but none of this is central to our everyday concerns.

Criticizing the agreement is not tantamount to criticizing the delegation. We have to judge what is on the table – its route to the table is irrelevant. I have every reason to trust the delegation (as I respect Silke's take on things) and know them to be skilful and wily negotiators with a huge amount of experience and an exhaustive historical memory. Their job is to get the best deal they can and bring it to the sector and we then judge the offer solely on its merits. The delegation is the means by which proposals pass from the institutions to the sector. Our argument is with the institutions, not the delegation. A strong and robust sector is just what the delegation needs to give it some muscle.

You say that were the institutions to threaten ending the current agreement the delegation would walk away. This is tantamount to saying that every time the EU threatens the end of the agreement we will cave in.

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Michael LUCAS

   

Nobody should underestimate the consequences if the sector votes to accept this draft agreement.

Firstly the direct consequences. Freelances who travel, and that includes everybody who goes to Strasbourg and does missions for any of the institutions will face the combined nightmare of inflexible tickets - often preventing them accepting work before or after EU contracts - and battling with payment officers who will have a whale of a time deducting money because they will have found a cheaper ticket on internet.

The 150% increase in the number of days AICs must work before becoming category 1 will lead to a 150% increase in cheaper competition, with obvious implications. Lots of people seem to have forgotten how worried we were a few years ago when young colleagues on the insertion scheme at SCIC were getting over a hundred days a year at the expense of established interpreters. All booths were feeling the pinch. Fortunately the insertion scheme was abandoned.

Let nobody deceive themselves or anyone else. The delegation tells us that the SCIC negotiators viewed the 250 days as a make or break issue, threatening to withdraw from the present agreement if they didn't get it. Initially they wanted to increase the threshold to some 500 days. Why were SCIC willing to drop their initial demands for a substantial pay cut? Probably because they knew that if they were patient, they would eventually get a far bigger cut than the 11% they said they wanted.

The real danger in this draft agreement though is indirect. Many people in the profession firmly believe that our increased productivity and unique skills should entitle us to a pay rise, which should have been our counter-demand when the institutions reopened negotiations. What is more, overall we are currently in a strong position. The institutions predict an increase in demand for interpretation, and in some booths there is already a shortage. Why then would we be willing to make these potentially disastrous concessions? And what message do we send out by doing so? This is why the institutions were willing to drop their hardline demands. They know that if relief pushes us to accept this agreement, we will have shown that we are weak. If we do not refuse now, when we are in a position of strength, why would we refuse in a couple of years time if they come back and ask for a large pay cut, particularly given that by then the 150% increase in cheaper competition might be starting to put interpreters in some booths under real pressure.

There is still a belief amongst many freelancers that we are only as strong as our weakest link, those booths or individuals whose circumstances mean that they are unwilling to take action to defend their livelihood. I disagree. Many of us here are in a strong position, and if we work together to defend our pay and our profession, the institutions will have no choice but to listen to us.

The alternative is for all of us to align ourselves with the weakest link, and accept the fact that in future our pay and conditions will continue to deteriorate. I for one refuse to accept that. If this draft agrement were to be adopted, I hope that those who believe in themselves and their worth would face up to facts. The days when it was in everyone's interest to have an EU-wide agreement covering both big institutions and all booths are perhaps gone.

If SCIC is the driving force behind this carefully planned strategy to frighten us (with initial demands for pay cuts, several categories etc) and then use our collective relief at what appears in comparison to be "the least-bad option" to push through what WILL amount to a cut in our pay, perhaps the time has come to call SCIC's bluff. Even if SCIC were to rescind the agreement, which is unlikely given failed attempts to do this in the past, I do not believe the EP would follow suit if faced with a determined stance on our part. The Parliament needs us and simply cannot function without us. Different agreements for the different institutions would probably reflect reality on the ground, which is that their needs and priorities differ. And if SCIC were then unable to find local interpreters with the language combinations required in key booths where there is already a shortage...the boot would then be squarely on the other foot.

Those booths which are in a strong position must use their strength, and those which feel they aren't should support them for their own good. A cut in pay and travel conditions will not conjure new meetings out of the air, in the same way as defending the status quo will not lead to a drop in work. The adoption of this draft agreement would trigger a downwards spiral in our pay which we will no longer be able to stop. Let us all finally start believing in ourselves and everything we have worked for and show that we know how much the EU needs us.

Michael Hill

17 December 2007

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Michael LUCAS

   

EUROPEAN UNION: THE THIN END OF THE WEDGE

We are told there is “agreement” on the various parts of the current EU negotiations. This is misleading in that anything negotiated has to be brought to the interpreters who work in the sector for their approval or rejection. The cheerleading from the directors of interpreting at the European Parliament and the Commission (see the websites) appears to be part of a concerted effort to convince us that it’s all a done deal. It isn’t.

The EU is asking us to concede on two central conditions: travel and beginner status. They are offering nothing in return.

Under the guise of cost-cutting the EU institutions are attempting to soften us up to test if we have the backbone to defend our working conditions. They cleverly put us on the back foot by making extreme proposals on pay. By comparison the current offer is supposed to look attractive. We must think hard about the signal acceptance would send to the EU institutions.

You are being asked to make your working life more difficult and you will get nothing in return.

Cheaper travel will not translate into more work. Interpreting requirements are determined by delegates attending meetings, not by airline fare structures. Given the number of cheap beginners the EU is hoping to attract (quite how remains a mystery) they are clearly planning on a pliant pool on the spot in Brussels.

It has been said that travel is the concern of a self-important minority in the English booth, and that the English booth should stop rocking the boat. The issues at stake are far greater than just one booth, but it is perhaps true that those most exercised by the proposals are people who work in several markets and are aware of their broad implications. The question to ask is where you see yourself professionally 10-15 years hence.

There is no doubt that latching onto travel was a wise move by the institutions, as many in the sector do not travel regularly and may not see it as directly relevant; this creates division in our ranks. An easy victory this time will encourage further attacks on the profession in the years to come, so even if you don’t think you’re in the firing line now, your turn will come.

Quite how the institutions square making beginner status so unattractive with the need to recruit more (and presumably competent) interpreters is unclear. The proposal on the table is for beginners to work 250 days before reaching full interpreter status, something that could well take them several years; the institutions have signally failed to justify the increase in terms of professional development or pedagogy.

The threat of the institutions walking away from the agreement has been dangled in front of us. An agreement is in their interest (would they have worked with one for forty years if it were otherwise?) and they know full well that they get a good deal. Cancelling the agreement would be a victory of dogma over common sense. And how much are you willing to accept to keep an eroded and diminished agreement?

The institutions are all on record as forecasting a growing shortage of good interpreters, so we are a valued resource in short supply. We should act accordingly rather than with the apologetic diffidence that seems to characterise our dealings with the EU.

Phil Smith

14/12/2007

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