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For The First Time, Freelance Interpreters and Translators Can Join a Major Canadian National Union

Posted 3/18/2024

This is a historic event, a milestone in the freelance world of Canadian interpreters and translators.

Never before have freelance interpreters and translators – and there are over a thousand of them, if not more in Ontario, and thousands in all of Canada - been able to connect with their peers across the land and have the support of a major union like UNIFOR/CFU - until now.

As professional court interpreters working mainly in the Ontario court system, PCIO cannot speak for translators or other interpreters, but many of us share the same feeling of isolation when it comes to working conditions, remuneration, information sharing and bargaining power.

The interpreter “community” in Ontario is not as unified as one might think. There are Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) accredited court interpreters, Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario (ATIO) certified interpreters, Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) accredited interpreters, sign language and interpreters for the deaf, and community interpreters accredited by different bodies, working in specific fields, isolated by geography and accreditation. Sometimes their paths overlap. However, the pay is unequal (even within the court system), and competition among freelancers inside many language groups usually drives their fees down.

The COVID-19 years have revolutionized the court interpretation model by expanding videoconferencing throughout the Justice System. While this new model presents more work opportunities for interpreters, it has brought its own set of work-related professional and health concerns and perhaps more isolation within an already-fragmented interpreter community.

Freelance interpreters have no minimum guaranteed hours of work, no way of checking that organizations are distributing work fairly, and little or no say in their working conditions or remuneration; these are imposed upon freelance interpreters by various job providers, whether by government or private agencies.

Indeed, freelancers are “free” to dictate their own price, terms and conditions, and this was successfully tested for the past couple of years by the Ontario MAG accredited court interpreters who hadn’t seen a raise in over 12 years. Finally they succeeded in raising their fees with MAG, but not all their conditions were met, and the scheduling process still lacks transparency. Also the Provincial Courts do not disclose how much they pay private agencies, which in turn provide unaccredited interpreters to the courts for a profit.

After MAG raised the Ontario court interpreter fees in August 2023, the Provincial Offences Courts (high-volume, municipally-run courts) immediately matched the MAG fees, followed by the IRB then raising its interpreter fees. The ripple effect is being felt by private agencies as well.

By joining the union, freelance interpreters and translators may benefit from union representation, advocacy, organization in a coherent community chapter. They can have their names and credentials listed in a public directory, and benefit from support services such as grievance support and access to group health and other insurance services.

PCIO as a group is not a member of UNIFOR/CFU, but individual members are free to join.

Please read carefully: https://canadianfreelanceunion.ca/en/

All union related questions should be directed to UNIFOR/CFU: coordinator@canadianfreelanceunion.ca or to: interpreters_unite@outlook.com to request a flyer and FAQ.