Iko ninis of Assignments, Payments and Interpreters in Kenya


A word of Advise to Interpreters, Organizations and Deaf Consumers: Iko ninis of Assignments, Payments and Interpreters in Kenya

Earlier this week late in the night I received a call from a friend informing me to urgently call in the morning for she had a job for me. After the call I set a reminder on my iPhone to call her in the morning. I get to call her, get the number of the organizer requiring an interpreter for an AGM....excited I call and am asked for a quote.....I say KES X to a maximum of X (9am-1pm) since it is an AGM and will have unlimited number of speakers, long hours and out of hand program etc so the organizer says I will get back to you.....three days later am informed by one of the Deaf shareholders, why are interpreters being forced on us by KSLRP? why do we get half baked iko ninis? So the event organizer decided to give the job to someone else, cheaper lowest bidder despite the quality and satisfaction of the Deaf consumers, in case you are wondering - I did get another opportunity to volunteer my services for a worthy cause with the Twende Kazi Campaign, it was such a joy interpreting for children from all over and I got to share the stage with Daddy Owen, Emmy Kosgei, Wyre de Love Child, Mis Karuna na having backstage conversations with RK MwanaAbuja it was much worth than the cash I would have endured an AGM to earn...in short want to cut corners on price & quality? expect a service with rough edges.

So what is the right pay for interpreters for the various assignments? 
First I would like to reiterate that currently we are in a free market and the forces of the economies of scale rule the negotiations between the interpreter and the service purchaser. Depending on the complexity of an assignment, duration, audience and nature of assignment there are some considerations that the interpreter needs to think about and a few legalese that the appointing entity must be aware of. 

As a minimum there is general consensus that it would be very difficult and costly to charge interpretations per hour or per minutes worked as it is the practice with translations. From my vast experience working on various assignments I have used the following categories and guidelines to help me come up with rates for any assignments. For the employee and the employer here are some guidelines that would enable categorization of assignments and make rate discussions much easier.

Nature of Assignment

Pro Bono Services - in my opinion these include interpretation services for the larger Deaf community for the common good of the individual or community in general. When interpreters volunteer to interpret for their friends at the shop, in class or with family; interpretations during KNAD events, lobbying and advocacy events, church services, social events or making phone calls on the streets I would consider these pro bono services. Many interpreters and Deaf people develop strong professional relationships from these volunteerism engagements. When we say they are pro bono - it is never free, many times there are hidden costs for instance transportation that are incurred to facilitate this assignments. 

Professional Meetings - these include but not limited interviews, staff meetings, AGMs, political meetings, NGO forums....they are complex in their own right. There are processes procedures and decorum to be observed in these settings. Considering the sensitivity, privacy and accountability associated with these sorts of meetings the interpreter is a third party facilitating communication for the parties and is held in high ethical bar for all the discussions, it is also an engagement that requires a well vast interpreter with the industry/field knowledge and trends. Finding a perfect match remains the assignment of the recruiter but also challenges the interpreters to horn their skills to be specialists and well read professionals. The interpreter would take the same stature as a rapporteur, note taker, secretary or a caterer thus this service should be compensated as well by the convener of the event. 

Social Events/Engagements - weddings, family events, parties, sports events always viewed as non formal for the guests, it is always a working event and professional engagements for interpreters. There is a thin line between this and the pro bono service type however it depends on how the interpreter is approached by the Deaf individual or organization needing the service. In many instances I have negotiated a lower rate given that the social networks allow for the interpreter to be picked or offered transport, meals and the interactions are very informal except in formal parties, weddings or corporate events, . Being human it is only fair for the interpreter to be considerate and cognizant of the other 'benefits' accorded with the job. In many cases these are some of the most easy and fulfilling activities to be involved with. People appreciate your work and you will get a lot of affirmations and instant recognition. A word of caution to interpreters take care of the wine, it impairs your concentration take the drivers rule - accept the drink and ask them to keep it for you for the after party!

Educational Assignments - This is one of the most tasking and most misunderstood area of all the interpreter settings. It is a demanding assignment as you climb up the academic ladder. It is difficult to find an interpreter comfortable and qualified to interpret at all levels or at a variety of levels. Inclusive education in Kenya has not reached the level where interpreters are employed to work in inclusive classes. Many a times to reduce costs and to avoid complications some employers employ a teacher/interpreter - they however remain teachers and never transition to interpreters. Remunerations in this setting need to be commensurate with teachers, teaching aids and guides within the educational systems to avoid the inequalities. 

I am lumping Medical/Legal Assignments  together because many times interpreters fear these jobs due to the jargon however thankfully they are not as regular unless of course you work in a court or hospital. There are however established rules and procedure of who can do what within the courts and hospitals, key issue for the interpreter is to know the field and work on their confidence.

Rates, Payments, Fees

From previous dialogue and precedence it has been generally agreed that rates can be set based on prevailing market rates, in comparison with existing prices for similar work and qualifications. From my tenure as Chair of KSLIA we struggled with setting the minimum rate for interpretation and come up with a guidance - for the first 2 and half hours to be billed at kes 2500 - 3000 with the consequent hours billed at 500 shillings. Many organizations, government agencies have taken a blanket 2500 shillings per day without any considerations to the other factors. There are organizations that pay a 'consultants' rate at anything between 5000 shillings to 15000 shillings per day depending on their scales of pay for other consultants in other fields. These inequalities are very huge and are a source of frustrations for interpreters and employers. 

It is worth noting that such issues of pay should be regulated and set by a body that would continually monitor market trends, economy, inflation, taxation and cost of living and doing business. With this absent it is harder and harder to settle on a standard figure. For instance it would cost an interpreter as follows to interpret a 3 hour staff meeting, interview or ngo forum

Transport to meeting venue 1200.00
Refreshment - water etc 200.00
Professional Fee 3100.00
Withholding  tax (less) 500.00
Total Cost to Employer 5000.00
Total Net to Interpreter 4500.00
or for a full day meeting, AGM or wedding function

Transport to meeting venue 1200.00
Refreshment - water, lunch etc 600.00
Professional Fee 6500.00
Withholding  tax (less) 800.00
Total Cost to Employer 9100.00
Total Net to Interpreter 8300.00


From the above example, it is possible to see how a employer or interpreter could remunerate an interpreter's professional service. There are a few hidden costs such as stationary, telephone calls to coordinate the assignment etc that would get the cost slightly higher. 

Final word to my Deaf friends reading this - Get your eyes, hands off my pocket. Interpreters have a right to a just wage as you have a right to get a good, quality service.

For Employers this is a guide and a conversation starter not a commandment. Engage and negotiate a competitive rate.

My fellow interpreter - do not kill yourself ask for a just wage and provide quality service matching the pay and do not be a jua kali iko nini interpreter. Your quality, professional service will earn you the best package negotiate, negotiate negotiate.

There are those who have hated me already at this point, but this info needs to be discussed and agreed upon. 

This is the iko nini of assignments and payments for interpreters in Kenya.


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