BSL/English Interpreters Set Up Their Own Union

NUBSLI logoIn the wake of ongoing controversy about Access to Work and interpreting contracts, a group of interpreters have set up their own union, called NUBSLI, which is affiliated to the Unite union.

A spokesperson told Limping Chicken that “Establishing NUBSLI is focused on making sure the BSL profession is sustainable long term for the mutual benefit of Deaf people and interpreters alike”.

The NUBSLI website says:
As a profession BSL interpreters are currently under represented in discussions with government. Our aim is to have the highest percentage of any UK profession in a union, something that is achievable given the size of our profession. If we succeed in this, our collective voice will be harder for decision makers to ignore.

Letters have also been sent out to deaf organisations, saying:

In the past few years the government and hospital trusts, etc. have demonstrated that they neither understand nor value the work that interpreters do. Evidence of this includes:

  • The Ministry of Justice contract that was awarded to ALS (now Capita), that resulted in 100s of interpreters giving up court work, as the pay and conditions were not sufficient to earn a living.
  • Hospital contracts awarded to spoken language agencies with no understanding of BSL interpreting.
  • And the current problems with AtW, where Deaf AtW users are often prevented from booking the interpreters they need, through budget cuts and restrictions on who they can book.

Whilst each of these situations differs, in each case inappropriate levels of pay and unsafe Terms and Conditions are imposed on interpreters in order to save money.

And in each of these situations Deaf people are therefore prevented from accessing the appropriately skilled and experienced interpreters that they want and need. In fact, the situation is now so bad with AtW that in some areas interpreters are leaving the profession, as they are no longer able to survive as self employed interpreters. And so Deaf people in those areas face increasing difficulties.
Although the interpreting profession is relatively small, we are a varied group of people; employed and freelance, full time and part time, and working across many different domains. 
A union can provide us with the structure needed to represent interpreters collectively, working towards persuading the government and other providers to recognise appropriate skills, experience, pay, and T&C’s. Being part of a larger Union will also give us access to resources to help us achieve this.
The Union, by supporting interpreters, will support Deaf people who want to have a professional interpreting service, from appropriately skilled and qualified workers, who care about the quality of access being provided.
Whilst we believe that the Union will benefit interpreters and Deaf people, we recognise that some Deaf people may be concerned that the Union is ‘just for interpreters’.

The NUBSLI website can be found here: