Interpreters play a vital role in Scotland but they are being exploited – Neil Findlay

Amongst the countless stories that have emerged from the recent and tragic events in Afghanistan, the plight of the interpreters who have played a crucial role in liaising between the Afghan population and US and UK forces is one I have paid close attention to.

Sunday, 5th September 2021, 4:45 pm
Interpreters are essential in court cases where some of those involved do not speak English

Their abandonment by the outgoing forces is a scandal. But it is not just in Afghanistan that interpreters are being appallingly treated.

Here in Scotland, interpreters play a vital role in helping deliver crucial public services like health, policing and social services. They are mainly employed by agencies who are contracted by the likes of the NHS, police and courts.

On the face of it, they are paid what seems like a fair hourly rate, but this is an illusion as they are only paid from the time they walk through the door of the police station, hospital or courtroom.

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They receive no paid travelling time or expenses, so a journey across Lothian to provide services might mean a round trip of four hours, a train fare of £15 and a payment to the interpreter of just £12.

During the period they wait on the next call, they are prevented from doing work for any other employer. They may only receive one interpreting job a day. These are the terms of employment being offered by agencies who receive taxpayers’ money.

Interpreters are highly skilled individuals who work with some of most the vulnerable and needy people in our communities. They often assist people who have fled war, conflict and persecution.

Let’s treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. They need a fair deal, not to be exploited.

Neil Findlay is a former Labour MSP and is now a director of social enterprise Unity Consulting

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