Historically I’ve never been a ‘political’ person; those of you who know me professionally will also know that I haven’t been a very political interpreter, quite the opposite in fact.
Yet, on Saturday the 18th of October, I was standing at the front of tens of thousands of people marching from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park under the banner of Unite’s newest branch NUBSLI, and I wasn’t surprised to find myself there at all.
As Britain’s newest union, from a relatively small profession, we were not the most strongly represented but I did wonder with just under 10% of our members marching, if any of the other branches had such a strong turn out. In honesty, that didn’t matter, we were all there together for the collective reason, to support each other.
My view on Unions
As an interpreter I have been lucky enough to see what Unions are able to do. I have also interpreted for marches in the past and at least one of my clients would not be in their current job if it were not for the strength of the union that they belong to.
Arguably, when a union branch first starts, there is no more crucial time for it to gain support. With the current economic climate and proposed changes to Access to Work (AtW) for interpreters, I would say that the need for support is even greater. After all, if you are prepared to reap the benefits of the union’s hard work you should also be prepared to put your hat in the ring.
Risks to our profession
If I’m really honest, as altruistic as all those reasons are, they are not the main reason why I decided to march and show my support. I marched because of the massive changes that have happened to AtW over the last year and seem to be happening on an almost daily basis.
It was for every one of my invoices that has been paid months late because of delays at the DWP. It was for every occasion one of my clients has been fobbed off with someone who is both untrained and unsuitable to have been booked with them. It is also because of the draft of the new framework agreement saying someone who has level 1 BSL can work as an interpreter. In my view, this goes against the Equality Act and could completely undo every positive thing that has happened for our profession and the Deaf community over the past 30 years.
But the main reason that I marched is because I absolutely love what I do. I love the profession, the people who belong to it and I love the clients that we work with. I worked long and hard – over 8 years – to get to RSLI status. We all did. You don’t become an interpreter unless it is something that you absolutely love to do, because it’s so difficult. I love what we do and I don’t want it to be taken away.