Interpreters, who have been the voice of politicians and top doctors for the public during the pandemic, say a federal department has told them that if they fall ill, they don’t have benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Interpreters, who have been the voice of politicians and top doctors for the public during the pandemic, say a federal department has told them that if they fall ill, they don’t have benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

‘People were upset’: Parliament’s language interpreters told no sick pay during COVID

There are 80 or so interpreters qualified to work on Parliament Hill, who have to do their job in person

Interpreters who have been the French or English voice of politicians and top doctors for the public during the COVID-19 pandemic say a federal department has told them that if they fall ill, they don’t have benefits.

The Canadian chapter of the International Association of Conference Interpreters recently penned a letter to Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand asking for her help.

Association advocate Nicole Gagnon says they were recently informed by the department that should anyone fall ill, they wouldn’t be entitled to coverage because they are freelancers, not employees, and the same goes if they need to quarantine or isolate.

“We know we’re freelancers. We know we’re not employees. We know we’re not entitled to sick benefits. But we felt some consideration was warranted given the circumstances,” she said.

Public Services and Procurement Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gagnon said the department told interpreters they were not eligible for sick pay after the Ontario-Quebec boundary was closed to non-essential travel to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus.

She said it has been bringing in interpreters from places such as Montreal due to a shortage.

As Canada has two official languages, Parliament cannot sit without parliamentarians being provided translation services for English to French or vice versa under the Official Languages Act, she added.

Their services are also used for news conferences, such as when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his ministers, and top health officials provide biweekly updates on the government’s handling of the pandemic.

“You would think that in the midst of controversy surrounding the issue of making sure people don’t go to work sick … it seems to us, as a community, that it’s a bit tone-deaf on the part of government,” said Gagnon.

“People were upset.”

There are 80 or so interpreters qualified to work on Parliament Hill, who have to do so in person, she said, exposing themselves to the possibility of getting the virus.

In its letter, the association adds workers have also faced increased injury from the sound quality of platforms used for virtual parliamentary meetings. And recently, it says at least 16 interpreters worked double shifts one day to staff committee proceedings.

“I think it’s being mean-spirited,” said NDP labour critic Scott Duvall.

“Here we have a government that’s saying they want to help the people, but yet when it comes down to supplying their own people that they’re hiring under a contract, they don’t want to give them that type of benefit. I just think it’s absurd.”

Gagnon hopes by appealing to Anand — who she acknowledges has her hands full leading Canada’s fight to get precious COVID-19 vaccines — the situation is remedied.

“We feel it’s disrespectful, especially in light of the fact we have been reporting for duty.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusfederal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun is the recipient of this year’s City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Award for Emerging Cultural Leader. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun is the recipient of this year’s City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Award for Emerging Cultural Leader. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Multi-disciplinary Snuneymuxw artist named ‘Emerging Cultural Leader’

Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun, receives City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Award

The Village on Third in Nanaimo won the Judges’ Choice award as top overall entry at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Awards. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo mixed-use building wins top prize at commercial building awards

Village on Third was Judges’ Choice winner at VIREB Commercial Building Awards

Nanaimo RCMP had been seeking help finding a 50-year-old woman who hadn’t been seen for two days. She has since been found safe. (Submitted photo)
UPDATE: Nanaimo RCMP report that woman who had been missing has been found

50-year-old located and is ‘safe and sound,’ say police

Commercial Street and other areas of Nanaimo’s downtown are now part of a new business improvement area following a petition-against process this spring. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: BIA process wasn’t fair to small business

Mom-and-pop shops will be challenged to pay the levy during hard times, says letter writer

Nanaimo RCMP report that a number of scams, many of them familiar, have recently resurfaced in Nanaimo and cost victims thousands of dollars. (File photo)
Nanaimo man scammed after lending money and receiving fake gold jewelry in return

RCMP provide details of several recent scams to warn the public

The Village on Third in Nanaimo won the Judges’ Choice award as top overall entry at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Awards. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo mixed-use building wins top prize at commercial building awards

Village on Third was Judges’ Choice winner at VIREB Commercial Building Awards

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

Nanaimo author Haley Healey recently launched her second book, ‘Flourishing and Free: More Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island.’ (Photo courtesy Kristin Wenberg)
Nanaimo author pens second book on ‘trailblazing’ Vancouver Island women

Haley Healey’s ‘Flourishing and Free’ follows her 2020 debut ‘On Their Own Terms’

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Nanaimo city council has voted to deploy speed-reduction measures for the summer along Departure Bay Road and to consult with area residents and road users to explore ways to further reduce vehicle speeds in the Departure Bay Beach area. (News Bulletin file photo)
City will again lower speed limit on Departure Bay Road to 40km/h

City of Nanaimo will consult with stakeholders for ideas to reduce speeds past the beach

Most Read