EU Parliament’s interpreters look to Antonio Tajani to break impasse over working conditions row

Pressure growing on European Parliament President to step in following criticism of assembly’s handling of long-running dispute.
Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson is Managing Editor of The Parliament Magazine

03 Jul 2018

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani will this week be called on to mediate in a long-running dispute on working conditions for interpreters following the collapse of talks with the institution’s administration.

Klaus Welle, the Parliament’s Secretary General, has been accused of roughshod treatment of the assembly’s interpreters, arbitrarily imposing tough new working conditions, disregarding formal consultation procedures and norms and refusing to engage with the interpreters and their trade union representatives.

Trade Union sources told this website, “The Secretary General has imposed changes without agreement, breaching all consultation rules while not accepting any of our counter proposals.” 

Among other issues, Welle wants interpreters to spend more time delivering live translation of parliamentary activities, raising the maximum time spent in interpretation booths from six to eight hours.

And despite making numerous concessions to meet the changing needs of the European Parliament, the parliament's interpreters say they are concerned that "management keeps moving the goalposts. They want to have their cake and eat it too.

“We want to set the record straight and ensure that senior MEPs hear interpreters’ views. We’ve been accused of resisting change, yet the hours worked in booths are higher than in the UN, and we are already doing more with less."

“It’s difficult to square the circle and have everything without solving other structural problems. We have put forward counter proposals but unfortunately the Parliament’s management have not been as forthcoming.”

The dispute took an unexpected turn following the administration’s imposition last month of so-called ‘requisitions’ (calls to return to work) on around 300 interpreters planning strike action. 

Several MEPs raised concern over the Parliament’s approach, including French Socialist deputy Edouard Martin who said he was “astonished” that the interpreters had been requisitioned. 

Highlighting the often-divergent views of MEPs and those senior officials tasked with ensuring the smooth running of the Parliament, Martin said, “This is the polar opposite of what our values should be. How can we as members of the European Parliament accept this?”

Martin accused Welle of attempting to run the European Parliament “like a private corporation” contrary to the attitudes of most MEPs and questioned the legality of using requisitioning to stop Parliament staff from striking.

“The credibility of an elected official is their ability to apply what they advocate for others and I think that Antonio Tajani and many others in this house would not accept this for themselves.

“We must speak out against this. It is absolutely unacceptable that they were requisitioned, I was astonished.”

Trade union representatives will meet up with Tajani and Welle on Tuesday evening in Strasbourg . The hope is that Tajani can help end the standoff. The issue will also be addressed at an extraordinary meeting of Parliament’s bureau on Wednesday.