Who set up NUBSLI? Nicky Evans!

Written by Jen Smith

I got some credit recently at the ASLI 30th conference for some very important work that actually… I didn’t do. So let’s give credit where credit is due and set the record straight.

I didn’t establish NUBSLI. The utterly brilliant Nicky Evans did (see pic!), with support from Wes Mehaffy and a handful of other interpreters who understood the need for a union.

I’ll tell the story of how Nicky came to set up the union but firstly let’s get this out of the way. What did I do when I was part of the ASLI board? I helped run ASLI, in accordance with its aims and objectives as a professional association. That is what you do when you’re duty bound as a Director of an association.

I did some really great pieces of work like save the association £20k on the office contract and supported some working groups and regions alongside budgetary and governance decisions.

The confusion comes as, like other members of Unite the Union, as soon as Nicky Evans set up NUBSLI, I transferred my membership across from the branch of NUPIT (National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators) to the one specifically for BSL/English Interpreters. I’d been a member of NUPIT since 2010 after the shambolic MoJ contract. Four years of Union membership and finally a branch for my specific field!

As a believer and supporter of unions, of collective action and with an understanding of politics I understand how we as interpreters must be political to influence those that effectively pay the majority of our wage. Government staff put in place policies and contracts that can shape the worlds of interpreters and Deaf people, for better or worse. Usually the latter, and there needs to be input from a strong Union, professional associations and organisations such as the BDA. I knew the importance of unions but it wasn’t me that established NUBSLI.

Just prior to my leaving the ASLI board, after three years of hard work, I wanted ASLI to endorse NUBSLI in some way. Or to at least acknowledge the importance of its existence. This wasn’t forthcoming and there was a lot of confusion at the time about the role of unions, why interpreters even needed one and why NUBSLI would do work already being done by a professional association.

Professional associations are much better placed to work on standards, education, supporting members. Collectivism is not something I ever wanted ASLI to do. Just state support for the right organisation to do that: NUBSLI.

There was an ASLI board meeting, decisions about NUBSLI that I’d brought up were categorically made on the basis of facts that weren’t actually true. And I was on holiday. Amongst all of that I left having seen my viewpoint completely misunderstood and had seen Nicky and Wes’s work as Access to Work CoChairs effectively blocked and her being forced to stand down. It was a board I no longer felt part of, one that lacked fundamental understanding with an ethos I disagreed with that had started to pervade every decision.

Sad? Yes. But within weeks I’d attended NUBSLI’s very first meeting and was asked to stick my hand up to be Chair. The first committee was formed and weren’t we a team! To date, it was the most productive, proactive, prolific work I have ever done as part of a committee who learnt quick, worked hard and let nothing get in our way. Nicky Evans, YOU set up NUBSLI and I salute you.

So this is Nicky’s story as I understand it and in my words. The facts have been checked…

As the Access to Work CoChair of ASLI, Nicky, saw the profession being eroded by government decisions that were affecting our work and the service that Deaf people were getting from us. Deaf people’s claims were revoked and slashed. Blanket decisions were made and with no strong Deaf or interpreter input everyone was suffering at the whims of the DWP. Deaf people’s work suffered. StopChanges2AtW brought Deaf and disabled people together to campaign with interpreters, but there was no effective work being done by the interpreting community.

Nicky mentioned these problems to a barrister she was working with as part of the StopChanges2AtW campaign. What you don’t have a union? You better get one.

She mentioned it in passing to a taxi driver. No Union? Best get in one and if you don’t, set one up.

She mentioned it to a political campaign group. No Union? We’ll help you set it up.

Unite the Union it was. Nicky did a lot of leg work, had lots of meetings and got support from the black taxi driver’s union branch (also mostly freelancers) and her political contacts who included inspiring campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

This was all before it got raised at any ASLI forum or meeting. NUBSLI was born out of political need. I just happened to stick my hand in the air and become NUBSLI’s first Chair. I didn’t establish it, Nicky Evans did. Let’s give her the credit she so well deserves.

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Interpreter Brain Drain? NUBSLI’s Exit Survey of British Sign Language/English Interpreters

imageNUBSLI has done another excellent piece of work following on from the annual working conditions report out early 2015. This report found that an alarming number of sign language interpreters were exiting the profession. Now they’ve collected data by adding an exit interview to the website to find out how many were leaving or diversifying their income and what their plans were.

An astonishing 79 interpreters filled out the survey in the first four weeks indicating this is an ongoing issue. To put this number into perspective that’s around 7 percent depending on what figures you use (in this case NRCPD, RBSLI and SASLI combined). When there is a proposed shortage of qualified interpreters, that’s a big loss, especially when most of those leaving are skilled and experienced.

Recent work on updating a database of registered interpreters has provisionally shown that it’s either those new to the profession dropping out or the more experienced that are leaving. So even though numbers of NRCPD Trainee interpreters remain stable at just over 200, as they become Registered the total numbers of interpreters should be increasing faster than they are at present. NRCPD has been asked previously if they collect data on those not re-registering and they have said they do not.

The NUBSLI report is comprehensive and well worth a read.

The original article and report can be found on The Nub – NUBSLI’s news page:

An Uncertain Future: Findings from a Profession Exit Survey of British Sign Language/English Interpreters.

RM1092 The National Framework: designed to wreck the Deaf and Interpreting community

After five years of contracting omnishambles and nearly one year of NUBSLI‘s campaigning against the biggest framework for interpreting services we’ve ever seen in the profession, we are still waiting for the biggest mess ever to occur.

This blog has recorded and commented on, over those last five years, the damage that large contracts taken by large agencies have done to the Deaf and interpreting communities.

The trend of ever larger contracts continues despite everything over the last five years pointing to this not benefiting the Deaf community. They are no longer Customers, it is now the government department or Contracting Authority i.e. NHS trust, MoJ, DWP and AtW. The interpreter is no longer the Supplier, it is now the Agency. Layers of administration come between Deaf people and interpreters with choice and control removed and interpreters are left fighting for a sustainable career which if they do not have leaves the Deaf community without an adequate supply of quality interpreters who can afford to work full time and be members of the community.

The national framework is being designed by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) to bring three existing frameworks together. The most important ones for BSL are RM738 face to face interpreting and the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) national framework. The companies that won places on the RM738 framework were: The Big Word, Prestige Network and Language Line. For the MoJ a monopoly was handed to ALS then taken over by Capita. Not a specialist BSL agency in sight. No, all they were left with were sub-contracts to these big guns who knew nothing about Deaf people. Interpreters were left fighting for their rates as the squeeze was on for everyone to get their cut.

Although standards were written into the MoJ the competitive mess sub-contracting brought about meant many experienced court interpreters left it to those who’d accept less. The excellent interpreters booked directly and well-respected by individual courts were pushed out unless they were willing to jump through administrative hoops and be booked by subcontracted agencies, one of whom knew little about legal work, the other dropping its own standards for the sake of saving its business.

Meanwhile with RM738, standards were not exactly high on the list of priorities. With nothing written into the actual framework and scant monitoring agencies were free to use whomever they chose and unqualified signers with GCSE level qualifications they used. And they cared little. One of three, the Big Word, proclaimed publicly in its evidence to the Justice Committee in 2012 that its, “extensive partnering with local suppliers, including SMEs and the voluntary and third sector (sic) ensures that contracts can be filled at a local level”. The reality is they’ve been one of the biggest blights on the sign language interpreting profession over these five years with Capita being another.

Five years on we have a national framework proposed which is based on the same principles as the others. The strategy seems to be increase administration and sub-contracting (which supposedly fills the government’s SME agenda), ignores the work of the registers (by dictating that agencies produce ID cards and provide CPD to interpreters) and fails to measure or understand the basic needs that interpreting services should be designed to fulfil.

On their procurement pipeline, the CCS states, “We do not set policy on how public sector organisations provide access to interpreting services nor do we determine the appropriate qualification levels for interpreters in particular circumstances. The offering is broad and it is for individual customers to establish their requirements in line with their policies when creating a contract under the framework agreement.” This is just one example of a clear lack of respect in setting standards or even understanding them in the first place.

With basic groundwork not done by government departments the national framework, RM1092, is a house of cards built on quicksand. Those who think that standards have been written in and therefore everything with this framework is now perfectly fine would do well to review the NUBSLI visual above and consider each of the points made. Standards written into a document is one thing, there are many other implications of what such a large, badly planned framework can have. Especially when it is designed to cover every type of interpreting, including Access to Work (AtW). Any choice and control in interpreting provision Deaf people had left is about to be removed and if sustainable fees are not paid to interpreters the knock on effect will likely to leave the profession, and the Deaf community, devastated for years to come.

Why NUBSLI are marching at the Stop Changes to Access to Work march

posted originally by NUBSLI | 4 September 2015 on The Nub.

The Stop Changes To Access To Work campaign has always been a collaboration between Deaf and Disabled people and BSL/English interpreters. Very early on, the government’s rhetoric strongly indicated a desire to create a divide between the Deaf community and interpreters (e.g. by grossly overstating the earnings of interpreters). It was partly a response to this situation that instigated the inception of NUBSLI, with an acute awareness that alongside the Deaf community BSL/English interpreters would be targeted by the DWP.

DWP cap on AtW is unnecessary

It is our view that the proposed cap on Access to Work funding serves to further the attempt to divide interpreters and Deaf people, whilst at the same time re-establishing a glass ceiling in the work-place, the very same ceiling that the introduction of Access to Work helped to remove. The cap is a supposed solution to a problem which we believe does not exist.

Two years after the initial requests were made, the government have yet to provide any information on the Return on Investment (ROI) for the Access to Work scheme. They refute the Sayce report figures, which indicated a £1.48 return for every £1 spent, despite having accepted this report and its findings, which they had commissioned.

NUBSLI

NUBSLI continues to work closely with StopChanges, DeafATW, DPAC, Graeae Theatre Company, Inclusion London, Unite the Union and many other campaign groups, and see these relationships as vital in this climate of cuts.

Our aim is to safeguard our profession and the services that our friends, family and colleagues in the Deaf community access. That is why we will be marching on the 26th September and hope you will join us.

Stop Changes to AtW march details

The Department of Work & Pensions’ Access to Work scheme is supposed to make sure that Deaf and disabled people are able to work on an equal basis to non-disabled people.

But…they are cutting our access so we are losing our jobs and finding it even harder to find new ones.

We want to work and have careers but the Government won’t let us.

When

Saturday 26 September 2015

Meet at 12.00pm 

March begins at 1.00pm, marching to Downing Street to deliver petition.

Where

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, SW1A 0AA

Round up…

I’ve barely blogged since the election. The challenges the sign language interpreting profession are facing in the UK are huge. What does this mean if this is happening to a small niche profession such as ours? 

  • The very existence of our profession is under threat.
  • So to other professions who serve the Deaf community e.g lipspeakers.
  • Deaf people are being affected too in every area of life.
  • The challenges we all face fit into the sweeping blanket changes happening to the disabled community whose equality, independence and dignity are being dug away in droves.

What happened? We got a Tory right wing government with no coalition partners to temper them. Forget the 12 MP majority in the House. That didn’t stop them when they put out an Equality Impact Assessment notice announcing Access to Work cuts hours after the election result was announced in May. See the excellent Stop Changes campaign blog for your round up on all things Access to Work related. And make sure you watch the TedX talk by Jenny Sealey for a moving summary of exactly how Deaf and disabled people are being affected by the cuts.

What else? The independent living fund has been scrapped for severely disabled people  despite the high court declaring this illegal. Supposedly funds have been transferred to local councils though a series of freedom of information requests show that many don’t know about it. Two weeks ago we saw DPAC protestors storm the House of Commons which gained great media coverage. Anyone who isn’t sure of exactly what these cuts are going to mean should watch Liz Carr’s speech at the People’s Assembly demo. The government won’t want you to be thinking about incontinence pads and people sitting in their own wee waiting for someone to show up when more budgets cuts are announced on Wednesday 8th July.

NUBSLI has been working hard making representations to various government departments and framework providers who want to see us paid the least amount possible yet still provide a ‘quality service’. This a government who does not believe in professions, independent regulation or quality. Just cost. If it did then the weighting for awarding contracts to private companies would be 100 quality/0 cost or something closer to that than the 40/60 for the first MoJ framework which brought us the disastrous Applied Language Solutions. This allowed a route in for Capita to try and take over a market it has little understanding of and certainly no duty of care to the people receiving the end service. A fact made more obvious since Capita declared at one government stakeholder meeting last year that they could control the interpreting market if given the chance. Not something the Deaf community would ever choose. Or interpreters.

Many frameworks are now being discussed and frighteningly the people that draw them up have no clue. You need professional interpreters in mental health? What do you mean someone with level 3 and no interpreter training will not suffice? We really haven’t moved on.

And on the perpetuation of the myth that CSWs are somehow ok and we’ve all forgotten the work done in the 1990s by the then, more ethical, CACDP… CSW and interpreter apprenticeships are still being discussed, the threat of a CSW register is still around, NDCS (a charity that is supposed to campaign for the best for Deaf children) is part of the ‘BSL coalition’ (along with BDA, Signature and others). Awful misnomer. NDCS advertises funding for BSL language qualifications for CSWs. Maybe a slight admittance there that CSWs are not good enough for Deaf children?  The Deaf children that should be seen as the important future of the Deaf community rather than being let down. The Adept UK machine still rumbles on and no one seems interested in reframing the debate. Why is no one talking about the ideal for Deaf children’s access to education, about what options could be possible then trying to find solutions that are a better than the two tier interpreter/CSW mess we have now. Where are the academics, experts and organisations to come up with something better? This blog aloNe can not address this. It needs a much larger public debate intiated by the very organisations who seem to perpetuate the myth itself.

Of course the existence of this two tier system presents risks in an environment where a new government sees qualified professional interpreters as expensive, unnecessary and replaceable. Since the high profile People’s Assembly demo where NUBSLI interpreters featured all over the media and Deaf people and interpreters stood side by side in protest we have gained strength as a grass roots movement who want the same thing. There are pockets of good work being done by the organisations who serve the Deaf community but they seem mostly absent, too busy  fighting for their own survival amongst the cuts. This is now a grass roots fight for what is right. Deaf people and interpreters: get on board quick. We’ve got work to do and we are all on the Tories’ radar.

NUBSLI launches survey into interpreters’ working conditions

In order to find out the reality of the working conditions of interpreters, NUBSLI has created a survey to ascertain if interpreters have enough work, whether this differs by region, whether they are employed enough and how interpreters feel about their working conditions.

The survey closes at 5pm on Friday 2nd January. If you work as an interpreter and have not got the link please email communications@nubsli.com.

Putting It Into Context: Looking at the UK Interpreters’ Union Through an International Lens

Brett BestBrett Best is an English/ASL/BSL interpreter based in London and working globally. She is particularly interested in the development of the interpreting profession and establishing strong relationships between signed language interpreters and the Deaf community.

I am currently studying in the European Masters in Sign Language Interpreting (EUMASLI) program. This unique program is a joint endeavor between Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, the University of Applied Sciences Magdeburg-Stendal in Germany, and Humak University of Applied Sciences in Finland. Twenty-two professional interpreters from ten different countries meet for several block seminars in each of the host countries over two-and-a-half years. The program has a focus on interpreting theory, research, International Sign and the development of the interpreting profession. In a recent block seminar at Heriot-Watt University, Liz Scott Gibson lectured on the importance of sign language interpreters lobbying policy makers and how to do so effectively.

A pertinent take-home message was that alliances are important because they enable the ability to collectively put forth a more powerful voice in order to have perspectives on relevant issues heard. One example is a strong interpreter association. The room was full of anecdotes that quickly put this consideration into an international context. In Greece, for example, I learned that interpreters working in the community sector may wait for up to six months before being paid for services rendered, and the calls on the interpreter association to assert an improvement is routinely met with a response deflecting responsibility by asking that the request be directed to the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (EFSLI). Clearly, it is important that the national interpreter association have the power and the ability to enact change. This example especially served to remind me that when it comes to sign language interpreters’ working rights, the pressure to make a difference needs to be asserted collectively.

There are two BSL interpreters in the EUMASLI program. When discussion came around to the UK context, our international colleagues were surprised and a bit perplexed to learn that we have two different professional associations. I am a member of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI); my BSL interpreter colleague in this program is a member of Visual Language Professionals (VLP). We are both, however, members of the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI). I quickly realised over the course of this session on sign language interpreters lobbying policy makers that NUBSLI is in many ways exactly what is needed for sign language interpreters in the UK. In the short time since it has been founded, it has already done a great deal toward politically asserting sign language interpreters’ working rights. One reason for its effectiveness may be that it is our two associations combined. NUBSLI is not an association, but it is the collective voice that we absolutely must have if we are to be heard by those making the decisions that affect our working conditions.

When my BSL colleague and I mentioned that we have a union, some interesting case stories emerged from around the globe. For example, there was a successful union initiative in the United States that organised Video Relay Service (VRS) interpreters in demanding a fair hourly rate, and a group of interpreters working for a television station in Spain called on the local interpreter association which then worked jointly with a trade union to successfully prevent unfavourable cuts at their work place. Unions, it seems, may have the metaphorical teeth that so many associations seem to be lacking, teeth that are needed to chew through the bureaucracy of political recognition and change.

As a sign language interpreter working in the UK, you need personal indemnity insurance, the support of colleagues, and opportunities to exchange ideas. For these things, join ASLI or VLP. As an interpreter, you also need fair and safe working terms and conditions and a reasonable rate of pay in order for the profession to remain financially viable. To help ensure this going forward, join NUBSLI. I really think that as NUBSLI continues to develop, it will become a shining international example of successful representation for sign language interpreters lobbying policy makers. Perhaps what the Greeks need is a union. I know that I am very grateful that we have one.