Next weeks European Parliament plenary week in Strasbourg could be disrupted by a series of strikes by interpreters, who plan to stop work for “one or two hours” a day, according to several officials and trade union members.
The interpreters, who give live translation of parliamentary proceedings into the 24 official languages of the EU, are protesting against what they describe as a “unilateral” decision to change their working hours.
A majority of interpreters will stop providing interpretation to meetings held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to protest against decisions made in 2017 — allegedly without consultation — by Parliament Secretary-General Klaus Welle to increase the time they must spend in interpreting booths.
A member of the SFIE, one of the main trade unions representing officials in the EU institutions, said the changes include increasing from seven to eight hours the maximum time interpreters spend in their interpretation booths translating parliamentary meetings. “This is way too much,” said a member of SFIE.
“Interpretation is a specific profession that generates a lot of stress and after eight hours, we cant guarantee the quality of the service,” the trade unionist added, pointing out that at the United Nations, the limit for working time is six hours per day.
In addition, Welle also requested six hours of interpretation work per month during late-night meetings in Strasbourg and Brussels. The interpreters want this limited to four hours per month.
Several trade unions, including Renouveau et Démocratie say in a statement that interpreters have offered “considerable concessions” since 2016. The lunch break has been reduced to 45 minutes while the “international norm” is one and half hours.
Interpreters are faced with “a strategy of inflexibility and postponement,” the statement says. “Nothing seems to satisfy the administration of the Parliament, which always asks for more, preventing positions from becoming closer.”
A spokesperson for the Parliament rejected the claim there had been no consultation, saying that there have already been 12 rounds of talks on the issue.
She said that days when interpreters work eight hours are limited to six per month and that the lunch break reduction only applied if interpreters spent six hours per day in a booth. “Plus, non-interpretation duties are recognized,” the spokesperson said. During “green weeks” when, once a month, MEPs are not in Strasbourg or Brussels, interpreters are typically not required to work.
Interpreters say they will call off the proposed industrial action if Welle agrees to negotiate with them.
The statement says they want “working conditions which allow the provision of a quality service to European deputies and to all those who listen to them, without compromising the balance between work and private life nor the physical or mental health of interpreters.”