On 17 September 2019 legal interpreters throughout Austria went on strike.
Court interpreting is a well regulated profession in Austria. A law actually stipulates the rates that legal interpreters get for their services at hearings, trials, investigative examinations, or asylum proceedings. The rates are indexed – and this is where Austria’s court interpreters had reason to go on strike on 17 September 2019: Although the cost- of-living index went up by 22.6%, rates have not been increased since the last rate adjustment in 2007. In fact, general budget cuts in 2014 led to a rate reduction of nearly 60%. With this lack of attractiveness, young interpreters opt for other interpreting careers and cannot be convinced that it is worth sitting for the fairly tough certification test, which must be taken before they can call themselves “allgemein beeidete und gerichtlich zertifizierte Dolmetscher” (= generally sworn and court-certified interpreter) – a title protected by law in Austria. In consequence, the total number of court interpreters has shrunk from 1500 a decade ago to a mere 720 this year. It should also be mentioned that the average age of court interpreters in Austria is 50 plus. Add to this the flow of migrants that have poured into the country and need language assistance in their asylum and judicial procedures, for which hardly any qualified interpreters are available qualified for their (in Austria) lesser-used languages. – The budget cuts also reduced the administrative staff of courts, which means that court interpreters (who also translate for the courts as part of their certified competences) must sometimes wait for months and even years to get their hard-earned remuneration. Against this background, the ÖVGD (Austrian Association of Court Interpreters) put the plan to vote at the last AGM in March 2019 and was supported by members in its project to stage a country-wide strike on 17 September.
The judges’ association was asked for their support by not scheduling hearings or trials on 17 September where language assistance would be needed and agreed to cooperate as fully as possible. Posters were printed and sent to all court houses with the request to put them up in prominent locations. Flyers were sent to every member of the association asking them to distribute them in front of courthouses. The media were alerted and reacted with surprising enthusiasm featuring interviews with ÖVGD officers on all channels and at prime times. A so-called “information meeting” was held at Vienna’s main criminal court where a former minister of justice and two members of parliament spoke out in support of the claims that Austria’s court interpreters have submitted to the minister of justice.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that all this action and solidarity will lead to tangible results – meaning more cash in our pockets!
You will find photographs of court interpreters on strike in Austria on www.facebook.com/oevgd
Liese Katschinka, Member of the ÖVGD Board