The International Association of Conference Interpreters, Canada (AIIC-Canada) conducted a survey in April 2023 with the main goal to gauge sentiment among accredited freelance interpreters about longer shifts in the booth, which the government’s Translation Bureau (TB) announced early in the same month.
As Slator reported, the main concern among these professionals is that a return from a four- to a six-hour shift, considered safe for in-person assignments, poses the risk of harmful effects on hearing during hybrid sessions at Parliament Hill.
Hybrid sessions create the need to interpret for members of parliament who are physically present, as well as remote speakers using their own sound equipment. According to AIIC Canada, the TB is trying to solve a shortage of interpreters at the Hill by increasing the number of hours in a shift.
Several interpreters have reported suffering auditory injuries during hybrid sessions, a necessity during the Covid pandemic and now an accepted practice. The occupational health issue was escalated to Canada’s Labor Program, which issued an order in February 2023 for the TB to implement the necessary safeguards for interpreters.
The AIIC survey results are preceded by a statement related to reported injuries, which says that “Sound from remote participants is suspected to be the cause of the debilitating auditory injuries interpreters have suffered since the beginning of the pandemic,” and that “Injuries and an unwillingness to work in potentially dangerous conditions have worsened the already acute shortage of qualified freelancers available to work on the Hill.”
The survey’s response rate was 82%, a sample of 107 respondents representing 95% of freelancers who work in government sessions. Almost half of those respondents have worked in hybrid parliamentary sessions.
When it comes to availability for working in Parliament should the new shift rules take effect, 81% of respondents indicated they are unlikely to increase it, 65% are likely to decrease it, and 69% are unlikely to maintain it.
Among the small percentage of freelancers who have never worked in Parliament but had planned on doing so, 87% changed their minds.
The survey asked interpreters to self-identify as part of four groups: those who had worked in virtual and hybrid sessions when the shift length was reduced as a measure to protect interpreters, interpreters who only work in government conferences, those who were considering working for the Hill and changed their mind as a result of the change in shifts, and those who plan on beginning to work for the Hill later in 2023.