1 What is an ACI?An ACI is a Conference Interpreting Agent. ACIs must pass an accreditation test to be added to the list of EU interpreters and be recruited by the EU institutions. ACIs are offered individual contracts for specific dates in line with demand for multilingual meetings. ACIs do not get sick leave, maternity leave or paid holidays from the EU. And we pay for our own medical insurance and vocational training.
2 Why does the EU have ACIs?ACIs are only recruited when required. This allows the EU institutions to save money by adapting to peak and low demand. The EU needs the flexibility that ACIs offer to be able to run their interpreting service in a cost-effective way, thus saving money for the tax-payer.
In addition, while staff interpreters must be citizens of an EU country, interpreters from across the globe can apply to become ACIs. For languages such as English, Spanish, French and Portuguese this is a considerable advantage.
3 How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected ACIs?Many ACIs have been without work and pay since March, and almost all have been without work since the end of May. Many will not work again before October or even later - that's six months, maybe more, without work. There has been a small uptick in demand for ACIs seen recently, but it applies only for ACIs from a small group of languages - 9 out of 23 - and only for those of us based in Brussels. ACIs who live outside of Brussels are still without work.
4 People who work for the EU don't pay any tax so why help them?ACI income is taxed at source by the EU and is paid from the first euro earned - there is no tax-free threshold. Additional deductions are made for pension contributions and health insurance. But EU earnings are not taxed in the Member States so some ACIs don't benefit from national support schemes.
5 Don't ACIs qualify for national Covid-19 compensation schemes?Criteria for national compensation schemes differ but many are based on a drop in nationally taxable income or on social security contributions. As ACI income is taxed at source by the EU, many ACIs who work mostly or exclusively for the EU won't qualify. Some will qualify for some support but even the most generous national schemes amount to less than 50% of typical monthly ACI earnings.
6 ACIs are freelancers so why should the EU institutions be responsible for providing for them?The official employment status of ACIs is self-employed. However, on the days we work for the EU, the contractual relationship is much closer to that of employer/employee. ACIs do not individually negotiate the terms for a job nor do we invoice the EU institutions per day worked. ACIs and the EU pay pension contributions and ACIs have health and sickness insurance on the days we are under contract (but only on those days). ACIs pay tax directly to the EU and that excludes many from national compensation schemes.
Also, some ACIs have learnt languages specifically at the request of the EU institutions and some of us have worked over 30 years for these institutions. We believe that there should be some degree of responsibility, be it legal, managerial or moral.
7 Why can't you just work for other clients?The Covid-19 pandemic has closed down the conference sector everywhere. So there is simply very little interpreting work available for anyone.
Also, interpreters who have specialised in EU languages and/or moved away from their home market to be closer to Brussels may struggle to find work outside the EU institutions even in the good times.
8 Didn't ACIs get paid cancellations in March, April and May?The EU institutions are contractually obliged to pay for assignments cancelled at less than 60 days' notice. So yes, some ACIs got paid for some cancelled contracts. However, this long-term recruitment only covers about half of the institutions’ total interpreting needs in a given year. It is also varies from month to month and is spread unevenly amongst ACIs, with some getting very little or none. This year, new recruitment simply stopped from mid-March. No recruitment, no cancellation, no payment.
9 Interpreters are well paid — why not just use your savings to weather the crisis?Many of us already are using our savings. But many ACIs will go from March to September, or longer, without work. That's more than anyone can get by on with savings. Because interpreters pay tax directly to the EU, the EU should offer financial support in the same way most Member States do to their professionals.
10 Can’t interpreters simply work from home? The Commission said that the distance interpreting platform they use is an ISO-compliant working environment.None of the existing distance interpreting platforms is ISO-compliant for conference interpreting, according to a detailed technical study by the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). Technical problems still abound with all the distance interpreting platforms, as has been shown very clearly in institutions all over the world in the last two months. And, of course, there are not enough meetings going on for us to interpret from home even if we were to ignore issues such as the technical problems, risks to our hearing, safeguarding the quality of our work and the confidentiality of meetings.
11 The European Commission says that measures have been taken for interpreters. So what's the problem?The only measure proposed by the EU equates to a one-off loan of about 1300 EUR. Specifically, ACIs are being offered a contract for that amount that will be paid now, then worked some time before the end of this year, over three to four days. This is the only support that has been offered to cover a period of potentially six months or more without work. What’s more, management bypassed the social dialogue and did not negotiate this proposal with ACI representatives.
12 The Commission has said discussions are ongoing...European Commission and European Parliament interpretation services unilaterally ended anything resembling social dialogue on the 26th of May, when they presented, on a "take it or leave it" basis, the offer outlined above. A true social dialogue is one of the ACIs' most pressing priorities, along with adequate financial support until the crisis is over.
13 So what is it you are asking for?We are asking for a return to social dialogue in order to discuss the issues that have been cast into the spotlight by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the larger goal of preserving the pool of trained and experienced interpreters who cover periods of peak demand for the EU institutions.
ACIs are asking for a financial support instrument, namely a source of income that will replace the loss of earnings resulting from the dramatic decrease in meetings at the EU institutions directly linked to Covid-19. Given that some ACIs have had no income for months, this is now an urgent matter. At a time when national measures are being taken to provide some form of financial aid for so many people in the EU, an analogous instrument must be created so that no ACI is left behind.