Overview of organisations: 2007
Staff interpreters play an essential role in our profession. International organisations evolve and the AIIC Staff Interpreters' Committee keeps an eye on changes. Once again they bring us up to date on the situation inside the walls of major employers.
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Structure of Interpreting Service[i]
No major structural changes have taken place in any organisation except the EP, where the Directorate of Interpretation is to be upgraded to General Directorate, which should have beneficial implications for decision-making and finances.
Small changes are planned for 2008 at NATO, where the Chief Interpreter will be assisted by 6 instead of 4 supervisors.
Mrs. Tania Chauvet is set to retire from her post as Chief of the UNOG Interpretation Service at the end 2007. After what happened the last time an opening for the post of Chief Interpreter was announced for Geneva, the administration has assured interpreters that the future Chief of the Interpretation Service will be an interpreter. Similarly, Mme Brigitte Andreassier, the UNHQ Chief Interpreter, will retire at the end of September 2007.[ii]
SCIC and EP must now deal with 22 official languages after the recent addition of 3 new ones.
At ICAO there is still uncertainty as to whether or not interpreters will be requested to do more translation work or even be redeployed to the translation sections.
Staffing and Recruitment
Most organisations have to deal with the retirement of many experienced interpreters.
Recruitment is fairly active in the UN (there have been new recruits in all booths at UNOG); in the EP (with competitions being held each year for several booths); at SCIC to replace retirees and to staff the new booths; at FGC, where graduates of the University of Ottawa are being hired to replace older colleagues who are leaving, and at ICC, a young organisation which continues to grow.
At ICAO the situation is becoming critical with the retirement of 4 interpreters (almost 25% of current staff), and downsizing is also the order of the day at NATO and the IMF.
A disturbing fact is that in several organisations recruitment is being effected at a low classification/level, which makes positions less attractive (CE, FAO, EP, attempted at OECD).
Positive developments can be seen, however, at UNOV (there are plans to add one post in each booth and to promote each chief of booth to P5), and FAO, where there is now one staff interpreter in every booth and a chief interpreter has finally been appointed after 4 years of interim status.
NATO is relying more on freelancers and two interpreter positions had to be relinquished to allow the hiring of two very necessary administrative staff.
Working Conditions and Workload
The number of meetings is down temporarily at OECD (due to lack of availability of meeting rooms) and at NATO. Paradoxically, OECD staff interpreters actually feel their workload has increased.
At the European institutions (SCIC, EP, ECJ), negotiations on special arrangements for the use of remote interpretation at high-level meetings are pending.[iii] New booths (i.e. for recently added languages) are sometimes under pressure to do more meetings than the agreed limit. A 2006 draft document on working conditions has not yet been approved by the CE administration.
FAO interpreters now receive compensation for work done on weekends or holidays, but only thanks to the good will of the Chief Interpreter since there is still no regulatory basis for this. Financial problems lead to excessive improvisation in programming for some meetings.
At ICC, a draft document on working conditions has been submitted to the Chief of Section.
Facilities and Equipment
Renovations are underway at several headquarters.
At FAO, rooms and equipment are being updated. At SCIC, emergency reparations were necessary at the Borschette Conference Centre, which was literally falling apart (it will take years for a replacement centre to be built). All OECD booths are now equipped with monitors and a state-of-the-art conference centre should open soon (after minimal involvement of staff interpreters in the design process). At UNOV, existing facilities will be closed for asbestos removal but not before construction of a new building (planned for next year). At UNOG renovations have started and the interpreters have worked very hard to ensure that they are duly consulted as there is no Capital Master Plan.
Whereas missions are becoming more frequent at NATO (albeit with the inconvenience of being forced to forget about business class), they have become a mere memory at ICAO and remain very rare at UNONY. Their number has also decreased at IMF due to more emphasis being placed on recruiting local freelancers.
All UN interpreters must now take a computer-based course on security before being allowed to travel on official business, a policy also in use at ICC.
At SCIC, teams have grown with enlargement. Missions are therefore costlier and less frequent. A nice touch however: interpreters who would rather not leave headquarters can join the "few missions group".
Professional Training and Performance Appraisal
In many organisations, courses (especially language courses) are not really accessible to interpreters because of scheduling constraints.
Following an audit at NATO, a new quality assessment system is to be introduced and utilized to adjust training to individual needs.
EP courses corresponding to a toolbox of basic skills are easily accessible (for interpreters: documentation and EP structures and procedures, etc. - but not language courses, which are still in too short supply).
SCIC interpreters benefit from more training days than other staff, mainly because of the duration of language courses. Additionally, some 80 interpreters will be granted stays of up to 3 months in another country to reach working level in a new language. Refresher courses or lessons with a private teacher are also possible.
At ICAO, it has become virtually impossible to take advantage of external training opportunities.
A voice modulation course was organised for interested FGC interpreters, as well as a practical course on interpreting from Spanish.
At ICC, the in-house training programme for Swahili and Acholi interpreters concluded in 2007, with eight interpreters qualifying as simultaneous court interpreters (four for each language).
Russian is becoming an important language at FAO and help is now available to add it as a working language
Documentation, Computers and Terminology
Electronic distribution of documents is becoming the norm, which is not always convenient when versions in various languages are required.
At UNOV, laptops are now available, but only to chiefs of booth.
NATO interpreters now have access to one monitor per booth and will soon be able to use 4 to 6 laptops for travel.
Use of New Technologies in Interpreting
Webcasting is becoming quite common: SCIC uses it for ministerial meetings, the EP for plenary debates, ICC and CoE (ECHR) for court hearings. A disclaimer is sometimes shown on screen, a practice which should become the norm. The interpretation tracks should be made available only for a limited time in keeping with the very nature of simultaneous interpretation. None of these precautions is taken at the OECD where webcasting of certain major meetings takes place unbeknownst to interpreters and in some cases is made accessible to the general public over the Internet.
Remote interpretation or video conferencing is used in many organisations, but usually only on a very infrequent basis. Some attempts are being made to regulate it, such as the inter-institutional negotiations now underway in Europe (SCIC, EC, EP, ECJ). UNOV management seems quite determined to go ahead on its own (independently from UNOG or UNONY) with remote interpretation despite the rather negative outcome of earlier experiments.
In the new OECD conference centre, when the number of languages exceeds the number of booths in the meeting room, booths in another room will be used as a complement.
Following a practice now established in several organisations, all FAO booths should soon be equipped with monitors; UNOG is also starting down that road
Federal Government of Canada, Ottawa (FGC)
Council of Europe, Strasbourg (CE)
European Commission, Brussels (SCIC)
European Parliament, Brussels/Strasbourg (EP)
NATO Defence College
International Criminal Court, The Hague (ICC)
International Monetary Fund, Washington (IMF)
United Nations Geneva (UNOG)
United Nations New York (UNNY)
United Nations Vienna (UNOV)
Articles published in this section reflect the views of the author(s) and should not be taken to represent the official position of AIIC.