Several of the measures put forth by the European Commission and European Parliament have aimed at mitigating the impact of contract cancellations on auxiliary conference interpreters, though still fall short for many.
Throughout the pandemic, European Union institutions have enacted several measures to address the significant loss in work for auxiliary conference interpreters (ACIs). Initially, the European Commission began canceling long-term ACI contracts, offering a loan of 1,300 euros for the period of inactivity. However, the cancellations made many ACIs ambivalent about the long-term viability of such measures and even led to groups gathering in front of parliament to protest the measures.
In a press statement in May, the interpreter trade union Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) said that freelance interpreters are responsible for over 50% of the simultaneous interpretation at meetings and conferences organized by the EU, with the rest covered by staff interpreters. The statement went on, “ACIs will receive a one-off payment for [the deferred] contracts shortly after accepting the package, and will have to work off the days,” adding, “The Institutions should go further than a loan of 1300 euros to cover 3-6 months without work and offer proper help during such an unprecedented crisis.”
Responding to the widespread criticism, the EC has decided to defer any further ACI contract cancellations through the rest of the year.
Besides the EC, however, the European Parliament (EP) has also gone through its own measures to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, proceeding with the cancellation of 2019 long-term ACI contracts on a rolling basis. To provide some assistance to the ACIs in this transition, the EP has offered a skills enhancement scheme that will provide ACIs with advanced funds to enroll in online courses relevant to the profession.
Asked for his reaction to these latest developments, Tom Van den Kerkhof, a Brussels-based ACI working for the EC, EP, and Court of Justice, said: “Personally, I am grateful for these measures, [although] I don’t qualify. I am a local ACI and, therefore, still have long-term contracts with SCIC until the end of the year. For the European Parliament, I have been getting a couple of contracts per month since June, which excludes me from the eligibility criteria. So, in a way, I am fortunate. You must work less than 3 days in a given 30-day period in order to qualify.”