Staff interpreters discuss workplace issues

Workload, new technologies, remote interpreting and secondary trauma among international court interpreters were on the agenda when the AIIC Staff Interpreters met in Strasbourg.

The AIIC Staff Interpreters Committee (SIC/CdP) came together, for its 2012 annual meeting, in the premises of the European Youth Forum, generously hosted by the Council of Europe in one of its satellite organizations. The two-day meeting took place, over the weekend of the 29-30 September, in a most propitious and welcoming environment of light-filled meeting rooms surrounded by Strasbourg’s still-green gardens as yet untouched by the encroaching fingers of Autumn.

Sincerest thanks are owed to the CoE as a body, to Sally Bailey-Ravet as its esteemed Head Interpreter and to Luke Tilden, secretary of the SIC/CdP and most admirable organizer of the weekend’s events. AIIC and the Committee are also greatly in debt to the masterful and gracious chairmanship of the U.S. State Department’s David Sawyer.

In addition, both the AIIC Council and PRIMS had sent official delegates, and several local freelance colleagues (from all age and experience groups) sat in on parts of the meeting, their contributions being most welcome and extremely pertinent and thought-provoking.                                                                                                     

It is fair to say that both the number of delegates and the intensity, constructiveness and sincerity of the discussions reflected most positively on the standing of AIIC among staff interpreters and, it is to be hoped, their employers! Indeed, it transpired early in the meeting that the percentage of AIIC members among staff is growing in the majority of Member Organizations, reaching 85 or even 100% among some of the smaller bodies: this situation perhaps indicates a new trend which runs counter to received wisdom on such matters.

The meeting began with a keynote talk from Sally Bailey-Ravet, who inspired and impressed all present with her take on conference interpreting, geopolitics and the work of the Council of Europe. It was apparent that relations between the Organization’s hierarchy and its staff interpreters are exemplary, due both to the highest quality standards applied in recruitment and working practices, and to a proactive and constructive campaign to educate and create synergy between all conference players. 

As 93% of CoE interpreting days are outsourced, good relations with AIIC are essential. An unusually high percentage (35-40%) of consecutive interpretation is routinely employed at meetings outside headquarters. Meetings adopt one of two formats, either bi-active (English/French) or multilingual involving 5 and sometimes more languages. In the current difficult financial circumstances, Sally recommends the creation of a climate of trust between organization and interpreters, primarily though unimpeachable quality, and by not placing excessive demands in negotiations. 

Sally went on to describe the exemplary agreement signed at the CoE (in 2008) to cover the webcasting of ECHR proceedings; among the provisions is that which allows, at the head interpreter’s behest, the rapid re-recording of interpretation, at the expense of the organization. It was agreed that much could be learned from this agreement, which is something of a precursor in a world where courts (many of which employ professional conference interpreters, and many of which were present in Strasbourg) and other bodies are increasingly imposing webcasting of interpretation during hearings, giving rise to a host of legal, professional and ethical considerations.

A lively and wide-ranging debate ensued, covering the aspects of legal responsibility, professional ethics and intellectual property rights in the context of webstreaming, as well as the challenges presented in this area by the use of the Internet and other new media.

It was widely held that it is incumbent upon interpreters to act as true communication experts in all their contacts with conference interlocutors, and here the HINTS social media policy and SCIC ‘Delegate of the year’ initiatives were well received.

On another matter, the group noted the trend toward the spread of remote interpretation (see below) in some organizations, and that AIIC must ensure its presence as a partner during negotiations where it is debated; this is the only way in which interpreters can provide an input to influence choices in equipment, procedures and safeguards. A further conclusion, reached by the group after listening to Sally’s energetic and impressive introduction, was that AIIC increasingly needs young interpreters within its ranks, for a host of reasons.

On an altogether more serious note, the group took full advantage of Luke’s local knowledge concerning Strasbourg’s many watering holes and brasseries, and a remarkably convivial and enjoyable dinner was shared by around twenty delegates at the city centre “Corde à linge” restaurant. This dinner was the scene of much fruitful interchange and sharing of professional (and personal!) ideas, inspirations and obsessions, and was a huge success, adding enormously to the laidback yet committed mood of the entire weekend’s activities on behalf of AIIC.

At the request of the chairman, the UNAKRT/ECCC (UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials, Phnom Penh), CJEU (Luxembourg),  WCO (Brussels) and Eurocorps (Strasbourg) delegates gave brief and fascinating presentations of their working conditions and respective employers, which are relative newcomers to the SIC/CdP sphere, and all the more welcome for that! The number of employers of staff interpreters is increasing steadily, and it was very agreeable and instructive for delegates to learn about the mission and working environments of their new colleagues.

Some time was then spent debating the important and oft-neglected problem of secondary trauma among interpreters, the many colleagues working in the field of international criminal law being particularly at risk. Potential mitigating factors and initiatives such as the ICC ‘groupes de parole’ and work on ‘booth solidarity’ were discussed as was the importance of research in this field.

The group went on to look at such topics as:

  • New ideas on how to make staff interpreting issues more visible within the association, including updating and revising the AIIC web pages devoted to staff interpreters. The committee wishes to present a more modern and attractive online profile, and to render the idea of staff interpretation more alluring, in line with our daily reality!

  • The project of updating the workload study.

  • The new initiative of rejuvenating a very obsolete table of examination and test formats and requirements among International Organizations.

  • The increasing prevalence of remote interpretation, and the way in which our various employers manage, or intend to manage the phenomenon. Recent less-than-encouraging experience within the EU and elsewhere caused the SIC/CdP to resolve to gather and collate data on this matter from members, with a view to adopting an official stance, and/or a set of guidelines on best practice – jumping before we are pushed!

  • The use of new technologies in the profession, including remote interpretation and video-conference interpretation, the management of such technologies and their impact. Vice-Chairman Andrew Constable gave a presentation on Video-Mediated Interpreting (remote and video-conference interpreting), which was followed by an update on remote discussions at the European Commission provided by Kate Davies. The SIC/CdP resolved to immediately gather data on the current extent of remote interpreting among the organizations represented within the committee.

  • Andrew has also launched a wider initiative to survey the impact of new technologies on the work of (staff) interpreters with a view to providing the SIC/CdP with a complete overview before taking any official stance on these issues. The committee is actively seeking the support of other AIIC entities to carry out this project. The first step would be a draft comparative template, based on information provided by SIC/CdP members. To quote: “Technology carries with it certain expectations…”.

So, in a nutshell (not forgetting Hamlet’s wise words: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space”!), the Strasbourg meeting was a great success, enjoyable and exceedingly fruitful for all participants. It is a safe bet that the momentum acquired by the Staff Interpreters’ Committee will carry it forward into a dynamic future, in which the role of staff interpreters, and the many satisfactions of their working lives, will enjoy an ever higher profile within AIIC.

Recommended citation format:
Staff Interpreters. "Staff interpreters discuss workplace issues". November 8, 2012. Accessed July 7, 2020. <>.

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Burckhard DOEMPKE


Rarely have I read such a positive report about any AIIC meeting. Makes me almost regret not to be a staff interpreter. Congratulations to the author and good luck to the participants for their future work. Happy 2013!

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