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.


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 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.


Saturday 26 September 2015

Meet at 12.00pm 

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


Old Palace Yard, Westminster, SW1A 0AA

Why do I need to be a member of a Union as well as a member of a Professional Association?

20140721-122019-44419062.jpgMariella Reina qualified as a BSL interpreter in 2008. She feels strongly about the need for the interpreting profession to always demonstrate integrity, and to be united in pulling together to effect positive change.

Mariella holds the NUBSLI role of joint Equalities Officer (along with colleague Brett Best).

In the other part of life she likes long walks, time with family/friends, listening to Radio 4, films, art exhibitions, attending a tap dance class and dabbling with learning Italian and Spanish.

A Union and a Professional Association support you and your profession in different ways.

The focus of a Professional Association is aimed more generally at offering a supportive environment to its members and maintaining the standards within the BSL interpreting profession:

An example, of this would be:

• To encourage good practice in sign language interpreting.
• To work in collaboration with other organisations within the field, to benefit the profession as a whole.
Professional Associations will work to establish best practice, networking and CPD opportunities, to name but a few. In addition, they often do a lot of work representing members and the profession, meeting and advising external organisations. Your Professional Association is valuable to support you in maintaining and enhancing your practice.

The focus of a Union is that of workers’ rights: safeguarding the profession and individual members from threats to erode fair and appropriate working conditions.

A Union’s key aims are:

• Representing the workers’ interests and protecting their rights (e.g., job security, standards of working conditions, quality of life etc).
• Establishing effective relationships with key influencers including Government.
• Fighting for fairness.

With a good strong membership the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) will provide the opportunity for the BSL interpreting profession to have a powerful collective voice, to be recognised and heard in negotiations. With the backing of legal advice, support and representation from Unite, NUBSLI can campaign and galvanise organised action if necessary.

NUBSLI, your Union, has more strength as a lobbying and negotiating entity. As a branch of Unite, the largest Union in the UK, it has the backing of an organisation with a long history of successfully getting the Government to sit up and pay attention.

The two types of organisation have distinct and valuable areas of focus and different capabilities, so a decision to chose one over the other might jeopardise the sustainability of the BSL interpreting profession. Join NUBSLI today and be part of that collective.

Blog: Why Interpreters have joined Unite the Union

Nicky Evans writes that by having a union we are ensuring that deaf people are able to access fully qualified and suitably skilled professionals.


After the BDA’s hardly publicised report into AtW, one of their case studies lost their job. On a probationary period for six months without access to interpreters due to a lack of AtW funding, this Deaf person lost their job. Everyday interpreters are seeing examples on the ground of Deaf people not able to access interpreters or spending so much time trying to call their allocated AtW Advisor that they can not get on with their work.

The union is not just about interpreters and protecting our pay but ensuring that Deaf people can keep their jobs too. Are you a Deaf person that has been effected by the cuts and can provide evidence that the union can use? Contact them via http://www.nubsli.com.

Why join a Union? FAQs

As reported in the previous post NUBSLI has launched. The first meeting is Wednesday 25th June at 6.30pm at Unite the Union’s head office in London.

As many BSL interpreters need to join as possible. Here is why you should, and some answers to some queries you may have:

Whether employed or freelance will we actually be stronger in negotiations as a result of being in a union? If only 100 registered interpreters joined NUBSLI that would represent 10% of those on the register. That would mean a high percentage of a profession that are members of a union. This is one of NUBSLI’s stated aims. If the union has that much representation we will be harder for government to ignore.

What do I get out of being in a Union? Uniting with colleagues under a common banner where everyone recognises the importance of their work and being paid appropriately for it. Being a collective voice which is stronger and absolutely necessary in the face of government cuts. Union services also include help with personal injury claims, employment matters, wills, conveyancing and many other legal issues.

Why do we need a Union to negotiate? We have ASLI who does representational work for interpreters at various meetings with relevant parties. With the backing of a Union, we have much more legal and political clout. We actually cannot survive as interpreters without one and it is legally and politically the only way to ensure we can still work.

Does being in a union work? It did for the National Union of Farmers against the likes of Tesco when fighting for a decent price for milk. Unionised workers earn on average 8% more, you can access training opportunities to update your skills and get more job security.

I thought unions were for employees. Is it worth being in a union if you are freelance? It is for London’s black cab drivers. Unite has been helping them fight their cause since 1874. Unite has several taxi branches around the UK. Drivers have faced mass deregulation by parliament via the Law Commission and have used unions to fight against this. Union backing has ensured members have participated in lobby groups, meetings with legal and political representatives such as councillors and MPs and greater liaison with relevant parties such as disability groups.

Do I have to be politically aware or an activist? No. A union has a democratic structure with no hierarchy. Some members will be more politically active than others, a union needs those members for it to work. The more it has the better but not everyone has to be political.

But do I have to strike? Unions get a bad press. No. A strike is a last resort if negotiations fail. There are other options such as lobbying your MP. The media in this country is predominantly right wing and does not support unions. Unions have other roles apart from fighting for worker’s rights such as training,

What cost for a stronger voice and to continue in a career as an interpreter? The rates are £3.06 per week for enhanced rate, £2.91 basic rate, 58p for students, 50p if you are on leave or you work less than 10 hours per week. Even at the enhanced rate that’s only the price of a cup of coffee per week to help safeguard your career.

How do I join? You can join via Unite or at the NUBSLI website. When joining, please mention membership number: 20390369. For every member mentioning that number, Unite will donate £25 to NUBSLI which will contribute towards the running of the union. NUBSLI is a branch of Unite and the branch number is LE/7380L.

Trade Unions: Know your facts from your fiction


Union for Sign Language Interpreters Launched

A union for sign language interpreters was mooted many moons ago under a Chair of ASLI who was interested at the time. It was an unpopular idea with members and many at the time wanted to keep ASLI as the professional Association for BSL interpreters providing mentoring, training and a support network amongst other things.

The political landscape and the interpreting market have changed radically since then. From 2010 outsourcing has increased in scale and has been damaging to interpreters and the Deaf community they serve. This has been the main subject of many posts on this blog.

I’ve been a Unite member since the launch of NUPIT, the National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators. Although many of the issues we face are similar to those of spoken language interpreters, there is enough of a difference in this current climate to have warranted a union specifically for sign language interpreters. And therefore NUBSLI was born, the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters.

External representation is a large bulk of the work that ASLI has done recently given the membership’s concerns about the future of their work. It is frightening not only to experience cuts to terms and conditions but also to see the least experienced, and cheaper interpreters, being employed to do the highest risk jobs. All of which is doubly shocking when you consider the effects to the Deaf community, many of whom are our family and friends.

I have attended frustrating meetings with government as an ASLI representative and I believe we need a stronger voice with the weight of the politically aware behind us: the campaign officers of Unite.

In addition to this ASLI has tried to stay out of the Deaf community’s way in not talking about issues that the Deaf community need to be leading on. When it comes to Access to Work this is a red herring. There have been UKCOD meetings about the AtW changes that have included representatives from the following organisations:

SignHealth, Clarion, Action on Deafness, NDCS, BDA, RAD, BID, AOHL, Sense and NRCPD.

Any interpreter reading that list may note that in the talks about interpreting, of the ten organisations mentioned no less than six have an interest in interpreting as providers of interpreting services. The profits of which will be potentially funding their organisations. One is the register of interpreters, NRCPD. The other three, as Deaf organisations, will be heavy users of interpreters and therefore this is a cost to them.

What I am getting at is that there is no clear voice from interpreters in either UKCoD meetings or meetings with government at ministerial level. It leaves me cold that the future of my profession is being potentially decided by those that perhaps do not fully understand interpreting (the length and cost of training, cost of staying in the profession, day to day challenges, costs of sick/adoption/maternity/carers leave, health and safety concerns) and worse still, have a vested interest in ensuring interpreters are paid less.

The more BSL interpreters that are part of the union the stronger our voice will become. The more Deaf interpreters that are part of the union the stronger our voice will become. The more Deaf people that support the union, the more likely it is that quality interpreter provision will still be accessible after any future AtW changes.

The first NUBSLI meeting is next week on Wednesday 25th June 6.30pm at Unite head office in London. Will you be joining in?

More info about why you should join NUBSLI

Unite the Union

Next post: Why join a Union? FAQs