It is not much fun to be a medical doctor these days. This is what a doctor who goes to the same gym as I do told me a while ago. The medical system that was created by the private insurance companies has done a lot of damage to his profession, which used to be very rewarding in terms of the respect that patients and the society in general used to have for people like him.
The salaries of doctors in the United States are higher than those of their counterparts just about anywhere else, but given how much money they have to spend now on personnel required to fill out and submit dozens of forms to different insurance companies, as well as on malpractice insurance, and how little independence they have compared to the time when family practitioners used to run a small business in towns where everybody knew and trusted the local doctor, how much do they really make?
As the saying goes, it’s not how much you earn, it’s how much you get to keep.
Private medical insurance companies have destroyed what not so long ago was one of the best medical systems in the world, or at least a very good one. The medical system in United States is now simply horrible as it is no longer based on common sense, common good, and profit, in this order. It is now a purely greed-driven system, created and maintained for the benefit of a tiny, parasitic layer of extremely wealthy administrators who are running it in order to skim as much profit as possible off the top.
People in many professions are unhappy with their jobs at the beginning of the 21st century, even if they are making a decent living, because they know that an important part of their job is to manipulate and deceive their clients instead of providing them with the best possible service.
How do mortgage brokers who were engaged in wholesale fraud for years until the real estate bubble burst in 2007 feel about their profession now, I wonder. I remember that when I was signing the papers for my mortgage, which fortunately for me was in 2001, before Wall Street unleashed the worst of their highly profitable fraudulent schemes on the real estate scene, the broker who asked me to sign a check for 500 dollars made out to his name said: “This is the only money that I am getting from you”. I knew he was lying, but I said nothing because I needed to close the deal. Sure enough, the final interest rate on the loan was a quarter point higher than what he had promised and I am certain that a big chunk of this money ended up in his pocket.
One of the main characteristic of greed-driven systems is that the people who do the actual work, and often also the customers, are treated as unavoidable but easily replaceable and interchangeable profit units. Another striking feature of these systems is that the concept of “common good” is completely ignored.
I think that a big problem with the modern form of the translation industry is that a purely greed-driven system has been recently created also in a large segment of the translation industry.
I will try to illustrate some of the recent developments in the corporatized segment of translation industry on “Nondisclosure Agreements”, which are now often 3 or 4 thousand words long and in which translators are asked to agree to a number of demeaning conditions, including the following stipulations:
1. The translators must wait to be paid for their work for a time period defined in such a way that it is really hard to figure out, such as “payment is initiated 30 days after the end of the month when the invoice was submitted”. Confusing verbiage is carefully selected to hide the fact that the translator is paid after about 60 days, as opposed to within 30 days which used to be the industry standard not long ago.
2. The translator is not allowed to submit his own invoices. Instead, “an independent contractor” is forced to use agency’s online accounting system to generate invoices according to the rules and regulations of the translation agency. This means that the “independent contractor” is prevented from being able to set his own payment terms and that he may be told to wait another month should he miss one of the hoops in the agency’s online accounting system through which he was supposed to deftly jump in the moment when he was told “now, jump”.
3. The translator must agree to use a certain CAT (computer-aided translation tool), usually Trados, which identifies instances when certain portions of the text or certain words are repeated so that these words will then not be included in the word count on the basis of which the translator is reimbursed for his work. This means that the translator’s remuneration is significantly reduced as the person formerly known as translator is basically turned into a file input clerk who is paid a certain amount for inputting certain words, less for certain other words (so called “fuzzy matches”), and nothing at all for certain other words (so called “full matches”).
4. The translator agrees to transfer all intellectual property created while working on a translation project for the translation agency (i.e. a broker) to the agency. For example, if a translator creates a database of technical terms in 2 or more languages while working on a translation project for a translation agency, this database would then be the property of the translation agency, not of the translator. If intellectual property is created during the translation process, why should it belong to the broker rather than the translator who is not the broker’s employee, or possibly to the actual client if that is what the client desires and pays for?
5. The translator must also agree to pay “reasonable attorney’s fee” should the translation agency decide to sue translator. This means that the number of lawyers willing to sue a poor translator for any reason whatsoever would be increased exponentially.
6. The translator is asked not to solicit or accept work from the customers of the translation agency for a period of a number of years (usually 1 to 3) even after the “Nondisclosure Agreement” is no longer valid. The “Nondisclosure Agreement” often makes no allowance for the fact that many clients may be working with translation agencies as well as with individual translators at the same time. It also assumes that the broker somehow “owns” the clients and that the clients do not have the right to simply dump the agency and contact another supplier, including individual translators. Such an assumption is obviously in violation of laws designed to prevent monopoly and promote competition.
7. The translator must also agree that should the translation agency or its customers in their infinite wisdom find the translation not up to the standards of the agency or of its client, whatever these standards are, he will not be paid for his work. This provision applies for example also when the original text is full of mistakes or written so poorly that it is virtually incomprehensible.
I don’t know how many translators sign these agreements. I used to cross out offending passages before signing them, but now I simply use these agreements to weed out agencies that I don’t want to work for, which means that I work on a regular basis for very few agencies. I received only 3 tax forms from translation agencies for 2012 and the total amount these agencies paid to me represented less than 10 percent of my income last year. 25 years ago, it was 100 percent, 10 years ago about 50 percent, and 5 years ago between 20 to 30 percent.
I assume that most translators who sign these agreements are desperate for work, possibly because they are just starting out, or because they are not very good or able to find other work. And since they know it, they will sign just about anything.
The “translation industry” thus created an environment that makes it unlikely that established and highly experienced translators will in fact be willing to cooperate with the greed-driven structure of the “translation industry” in its latest reincarnation, which treats them as easily replaceable and interchangeable “word replacers”.
It really makes much more sense to try to find direct clients, or to work only for small translation agencies, some of which still pay decent rates within a reasonable time period and treat translators with respect because they understand that without them, they can’t function.
I also believe that the customers are slowly catching on and that more and more of them will be defecting from large translation behemoths to highly specialized translation agencies and individual translators in the years to come.