The Home Office has dropped plans to cut the wages of its pool of more than 2,000 interpreters following threats of a mass boycott, which could have brought the system for processing immigration claims across the country to a halt.
One interpreter said: “The Home Office has performed a big U-turn here. We are already well underpaid, having to travel for up to six hours a day to bookings without any pay. They have kept our rates of pay at the same level since 2002 but it was too much when they told us at the end of last year that they were actually going to cut our pay rates from 1 January. We are all very relieved that these pay cuts have been abandoned.”
The Home Office has more than 2,000 highly trained interpreters on its books, all of whom have had to undergo counter-terrorism security clearance. It would be difficult for the Home Office to replace the current pool of interpreters at short notice.
Following an article in the Guardian about the planned pay cuts, officials from the Home Office’s Central Interpreters Unit agreed to meet some of the interpreters to discuss their concerns about the planned pay cuts.
The Home Office had initially announced that the pay cut would be postponed from 1 January 2016 until at least 1 February. However, on Friday the postponement was scrapped and the Home Office said it is launching a fundamental review of interpreter services including rates of pay.
In a note to interpreters, the Home Office said: “This notification is to advise you that following further internal discussions, the decision has been taken to adjourn the planned rate change at this time with a view to commissioning a fundamental review of interpreter services, including the interpreter rates of pay within the scope of the review.
“Consequently, current Home Office interpreter rates of pay remain in effect until further notice.”
Interpreters currently receive £16 an hour on weekdays and slightly more at the weekend. But the first hour’s work is paid at an enhanced rate to recognise the time and cost of travelling to appointments. The Home Office had proposed that the first-hour rate will be cut from £48 to £32 on weekdays and from £72 to £46 at weekends.
Interpreters are expected to travel up to three hours each way without extra payments from the Home Office. They attend meetings between asylum seekers and others interacting with immigration officials, and translate interview questions and answers face to face. The pay cuts were due to apply to various areas of the Home Office’s work, including UK Visas and Immigration, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and HM Passport Office.
The interpreters planned to boycott all interpreting assignments offered on 1 January 2016 and to roll out a series of one-day boycotts after that.
Hundreds signed a petition protesting about the planned wage reductions and a Twitter and Facebook campaign was launched.
A spokesman for Professional Interpreters for Justice, which protested strongly to the Home Office about the planned cuts, welcomed the news.
“We are delighted,” he said. “There is a whole range of government interpreting where rates of pay are under threat. Today’s decision by the Home Office is the first outbreak of common sense we’ve seen.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We keep our costs under constant review to ensure the contractors we use offer the best value for money for the taxpayer.
“As part of these considerations, we have decided to commission a fundamental review of interpreter services. Interpreter rates of pay will be considered within the scope of the review.
“The planned rate change will be adjourned pending this review and current rates of pay remain in effect.”