A Question of Choice

dollar-signsDeaf Australia, last week, circulated a letter to members of the South Australian Deaf community. The letter attempted to help the community make sense of an ongoing dispute between Deaf Can Do (DCD) and the National Auslan Booking Service (NABS). For those not familiar with NABS it is a service funded by the Commonwealth Government to provide interpreters for deaf Auslan users at private medical appointments. DCD are the major supplier of Auslan interpreters in South Australia. The dispute is clearly a complicated one that involves money, disputed agreements and business rights. One interesting area that was highlighted in the Deaf Australia letter was the fact that only four interpreters in South Australia are registered with NABS. The rest apparently are registered with DCD. It is this issue that this article will focus on because for Deaf people and interpreters it is a question of choice.

The Deaf Australia letter claims that it is only in South Australia that interpreters do not register with NABS on a large scale. The letter offered no reason but leaves the question open as to why this is happening. It could be for any number of reasons. Perhaps DCD offer the best employment conditions so interpreters prefer to work for them. Perhaps the interpreters prefer to work for  DCD because they find the NABS paperwork onerous. It is possible that they have a condition of employment with DCD that prohibits them working for other agencies. These reasons are purely speculative but one thing is clear – around Australia interpreters freely register with NABS but not in South Australia. It would seem DCD have a virtual monopoly on interpreter bookings in South Australia.

In response to the Deaf Australia letter DCD clarified the NABS issue in their publication, Deaf Notes. DCD state that they had written to NABS on the 9th June agreeing to waive all monies that are allegedly owed to DCD by NABS IF NABS 1)formally agree not to compete against Deaf Can Do Interpreting Services in South Australia; 2) refer all enquiries for non-medical bookings to Deaf Can Do; and 3) agrees to work with Deaf Can Do to eliminate the practice of freelance or casual interpreters ‘job shopping’ (i.e. cancelling on existing bookings to take a higher paid booking when one is offered).(Source: Deaf Can Do, Deaf Notes, Winter 2009)

DCD are saying to NABS that if anyone wants an interpreter for a job that is not a private medical appointment then they must refer them to DCD. Is this fair? Could it be seen as anti-competitive? One could argue that having to book interpreters through only one agency is limiting choice for the Deaf community. It could also be argued that by insisting that all non private medical interpreting jobs are referred to DCD it is akin to creating an interpreting monopoly. There are pros and cons of interpreter monopolies. First let us discuss the pros.

If all interpreting is booked at one agency it is easy for Deaf people to know where to book interpreters. It means that they know that the interpreter who they would prefer is at the agency. This would make it easier for them to obtain their preferred interpreter. Having interpreters based in one organisation also means it is easier to support them and ensure that they get the right training. Maintaining ethics and standards for interpreters could be easier having them based at one organisation.

Along with the pros there are a number of cons. Having all interpreting based at one agency means that agency can dictate the cost. With no competition the agency with the monopoly can charge as high as is legally allowable. If there are other agencies competing it means that prices have to remain competitive which can mean more access for Deaf people as it can make interpreting more affordable.

Another con of having only one agency is that it can also mean that quality and service become sloppy. One thing that competition does is keep a business on its toes. To ensure they retain business they present more professional and quality services. Without competition it is easy to become complacent and allow standards to drop. For interpreters it could mean they receive lower salaries. Why? Because if there is only one agency, that agency can dictate what interpreters are paid. Whereas if there is another agency it is likely to lead to the offering of competitive salary rates and this is an added incentive for interpreters to remain in the trade.

It is possible that DCD, as any business would do, are trying to protect their income source. They have asked NABS to formally agree not to set up a business in competition with them. Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable. Let’s look at Victoria as an example. In Victoria the Deaf community have a choice of agencies that they can choose from to book their interpreters. The agencies offer competitive rates and this is a good thing for the Deaf community. Indeed the agencies often work together referring jobs to each other when they cannot meet a booking. Interpreters are free to register with whatever agency they please including with NABS. The Victorian model ensures service to Deaf people is of the highest quality simply because if it is not consumers will do their business through a competing agency. Perhaps DCD should investigate the system in Victoria. It is an effective and efficient system.

DCD have asked NABS to assist them in eliminating what they call Job Shopping. This is where interpreters have accepted a job and later cancelled it because a higher paid job was offered. This is frustrating for the Deaf person who misses out on the booking. However, there are other issues that need to be considered. Job Shopping is seen as unethical and it often is. However, it is not a simple issue.

Interpreting is often seasonal. Most interpreters will tell you that school holidays and university holidays are periods when their income is very low. During this time many interpreters struggle to make ends meet. Sometimes they are in a situation where they must accept the higher paid jobs just so that they can pay their bills. Interpreters are largely self employed and are employed very much depending on the market at any given time.

In all of this it is important to remember that Deaf people and interpreters have rights. Deaf people should have the right to chose where and who they book their interpreters with. Interpreters should have the right to chose how they  want to be employed, whether it is self employed, with one agency or with several. This should not be dictated by others. In the coming weeks there is to be a public meeting in South Australia to discuss the interpreter booking issues. We hope that by presenting this information it will help open and honest discussions. More importantly we hope it assists in some way to resolve the dispute between DCD and NABS with constructive input from Deaf people and the interpreter fraternity.


6 thoughts on “A Question of Choice

  1. [Deaf people should have the right to chose where and who they book their interpreters with. Interpreters should have the right to chose how they want to be employed, whether it is self employed, with one agency or with several. This should not be dictated by others]

    We don’t have this right in the UK, since we do not pay the interpreters fees,perhaps we should get the dosh ! We ‘might’ get a sympathetic person who books this support and will ask a terp you want to support, a lot will not because they will simply hire you a terp depending on cost, orders come from higher up. My area might charge £40 plus an hour, London will charge you £200 plus and then some… Then choice becomes academic they will go for the cheapest.

    Near ALL are freelance now because they wan to set their own times, and fees, this is an ongoing issue deaf don’t like, since ‘market forces’ can force out your chosen terp then.

    The issue of freelance terp is something that needs addressing for another point, in that they are largely unregulated. Whether we should bow to deaf choice may come up for debate, in some areas I would say no, they cannot choose anyone they prefer, because of legal issues or medical ones a neutral and unknown, is essential,and of course LAW, in the courts you cannot choose who you want. Bias.

    The other point is terps who are ‘on a roll’ with one client can get more work and higher fees that way, we need to be careful terps will not then abuse the relationship they have with clients. I find touting with clients a little unethical and unfair… I think I would prefer no freelance interpreting and one group nationally and subject to regualtion. The image of deaf people as ‘clients’ subject to ‘market forces’ for their access doesn’t sit well…

  2. All this is fine but one question nags at me, being:

    If NABS is run by the government surely they would have made Interpreter funding only through NABs and made it mandatory for all private medical pratitioners to contact NABS whenever an Interpeter is required? If this is the case then other agencies need to refer all private medical appointments to NABS and a non-situation arises?

    It won’t be until I have received responses to question until the whole mess is made clear for me (and others maybe).

    • I believe Paul that the sceario that you ask about happens in every other state but not o in south Australia. Why? NABS has no issues or problems elsewhere. technically it cannot really compete agains deaf Can Do as it has a contract with the government that says it can only service private medical issues which makes Deaf Can Dos heavy handed tactics all the more puzzling. fancy setting up your own interpreter booking service?
      Might be a way back to Australia. I am getting lots of private correspondence from people in SA who are too scared to speak publicly … They are ded upm I can tell you.

  3. What i can gather is that NABS do not employ full time interpreters anywhere in Australia to service the medical appointments to deaf consumers. NABS assign nationally accredited interpreters in all states & territories. I understand that NABS keep a list of registered NAATI interpreters available to deaf consumers in respective States & territories. For example, the names of interpreters include some staff members of Deaf CanDo who are either employed in a full-time or part time capacity, or casual; then the freelancers; and sometimes assign interpreters from interstate if one is not available in South Australia eg male interpreters. Interpreters in South Australia whether they are registered with NABS or not, are reputably doing a good service to the deaf people.
    In South Australia, WE hope that a forum will be forthcoming, to give a clearer picture of NABS’role; what they do and how they run the services and how they engage registered NAATI interpreters from a selection of reputable registered agencies. I always thought that the paramount of interest is what the Deaf want and who they want to interpreted by. That was the belief shared by the Deaf community consumers. On rare occasions, when a interpreter is not available or that is NOT going to happen, of course there is always a choice to choose from interstate interpreters eg VicDeaf, NSW deaf society or Auslan services is flown in courtesy of FaHSCIA funding.

    As Gary has said in previous correspondence, it’s always healthy to hear two sides of versions to stories. It’s always healthy to have a choice of interpreting agencies to give it a competitive boost.

    Is it not healthy to be intimitated by the agency’s allegations against another agency? It is surprising that the agency use the Deaf people as a way to turn against the other agency. this sort of method creates harm with Deaf vs Deaf, bitter infighting, disintegrating peaceful working relationships between the agencies, between the agency & the deaf consumers, between the Deaf groups, and finally between the deaf and the deaf.

  4. OK. But this question still nags at me, sorry. NABS is funded by the Government, right. Interpreters doing NABS jobs have their invocies paid for by NABS elsewhere in Oz, right? But in SA, the SA Deaf Society (none of this Deaf Can Do nonsense for me please) pays interpreter invoices, but this means SADS are then out of pocket and I am sure that they will want to watch their cashflow, they will want reimbursement from somewhere. Does NABS reimburse them? If not then SADS only have themselves to blame for making a loss from the medical aspect of their interpreting service.

  5. Paul

    This is as I understand it. People can correct me if I am wrong

    NABS usually, elsewhere, will have enough interpreters to book from their own books. If they do this they pay the interpreter themselves according to the agreed fee under their government contract. A 1.5 hour job, with travel time is, I believe, $114, depending on the amount paid for the travel.

    Now on the few occassions that NABS cant find someone they will book through other agencies. Other agencies might employ full time interpreters. When NABS book through the agencies the agency will be paid directly. For the job above they would receive $114. Usually they would keep this in total because they will use the interpreter who is on a salary. This only happens when NABS cant find anyone from their own books.

    In SA it becomes murky because so few interpreters are registered with NABS. They must, more than often, book through SA Deaf Society (DCD) DCD will, when they can, use their full time interpreters of which they have 2. They will pocket the full fee as paid by NABS. Now because most interpreters are registered with DCD whenever the two full time interpreters are not available they will use whoever they have on their books. In this case the $114 that would normally go to the interpreter is shared between the interpreter and DCD. DCD pocket $61.50 with $62.50 going to the interrpreter. So they make a profit again.

    In all this is also a saga where DCD were, apparently, charging a rate to NABS above the rate that they could legally pay under their government contract. DCD wanted to be paid the rate they charged, NABS could not pay as they can only pay what their govt contract prescribes. Then there is a so called MOU that DCD said was binding and NABS said was never signed. Somewhere in all this is consumer and interpreter choice which has been compromised by one agency or the other. It gets murky.

    If I have any of this wrong, anyone reading this please feel free to correct me. I suspect only DCD and NABS know but wont be in a position to tell us so the Public Forum that is coming will, hopefully, have answers.

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