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Translator agency with £15m government contract deny workers the right to holiday pay and minimum wage, according to law firm Leigh Day

A translator agency that provides government services is denying the interpreters and translators that work for them the workers’ rights they are entitled to, according to law firm Leigh Day.

Posted on 25 June 2024

The firm is currently acting on behalf of interpreters and translators working for thebigword who believe they should be treated as workers and given the appropriate rights under employment law, including holiday pay and at least minimum wage.

In the UK, there are three types of employment status - employee, worker and self-employed independent contractor - and the rights they are entitled to differ.

Interpreters and translators working for thebigword are currently classified as self-employed independent contractors. Leigh Day argues that, because of the way the company engages their workforce, including making them undergo a detailed recruitment process, providing them with branded equipment, fixing their rate of pay and limiting their ability to substitute others to do their work, they should instead be classed as workers.

The company, whose UK headquarters is based in Leeds, provides telephone and face to face interpreting and translation services to the MoJ, DWP, Home Office, MoD, Probation, UK Border Force, NHS, HMRC, local authorities and emergency services of police, ambulance and fire.

Leigh Day believes translators and interpreters working for thebigword could be entitled to compensation in the form of backpay, but the company will only be legally required to compensate those who have brought a claim. Leigh Day is acting under a ‘no win no fee’ agreement, which means interpreters and translators do not pay anything unless their claim is successful.

A translator, who we have called Aman, has been registered with thebigword for seven years and said, in that time his hourly rate has not increased.

He said:

“About eight months ago I asked a thebigword representative if their own pay had increased in the last seven years and they said yes. They have also agreed that there has been an increase in how much they charge clients. However, my pay hasn’t increased in that time. When I pointed this out, thebigword had nothing to say to that.

“There have been times when I’ve gone to a job, and they’ve given me the wrong address. I’ve travelled for two hours or so to get to the job and I can’t do what I’ve been hired to do because I’m in the wrong place, so I lose out on the money for that job. They have no leniency when interpreters make errors, but when the error is theirs it’s a different story.

“They give you 28 days to submit your timesheet for face-to-face work. Most agencies have moved to electronic but if you do work through thebigword you have to print out a timesheet, fill it out, get it signed by the client, scan and upload it and send over to them. You must wait for thebigword to verify it before you can request payment. It feels like they make the process deliberately long winded - if there is an issue with the process, the interpreter does not get paid. You also don’t get paid the same month as doing the work - you get paid at best 60 days after the job has been invoiced." 

Gabriel Morrison, a solicitor in the employment team at Leigh Day, said:

“Companies like thebigword who rely on “gig” workers should not be exploiting the system by denying them the rights they are entitled to. thebigword prides itself on being one of the largest language service providers globally, and clearly the translators and interpreters it works with are key to that success and should be paid fairly.

“From speaking to our clients, I know the added stress that not receiving a reasonable wage puts on them, especially during the ongoing cost of living crisis. There is strength in numbers and our hope is, that by launching a group claim, thebigword recognises that they need to address the issue urgently.”

Gabriel Morrison

Gabriel Morrison

Gabriel Morrison is a senior associate solicitor in the employment department.

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