Open letter to BTI International Oy


The 98 freelance translators who resigned from BTI International have sent their former employer an open letter, dated November 1st 2012.

Paula Kaurismäki, Managing Director of BTI International Oy - our former and very short-term employer - proclaimed yesterday in the media that BTI International has made an offer to us and that the terms of the offer are close to our former contracts with MTV Media. Ms Kaurismäki in newspaper Helsingin Sanomat: ”The translators did not want to hear our forthcoming offer, but resigned instead. Now we have made them an offer where the wages are rather close to the MTV Media level.”

According to Ms Kaurismäki, BTI International had planned all along to offer the translators permanent in-house positions after the transition period. In the light of the actual events, this is a very curious claim. In the information meetings immediately following the transfer of business (on 1st Oct and 3rd Oct), the representatives of BTI International were asked directly about the developments concerning future terms of employment and the schedule in which negotiations regarding the terms could be commenced between BTI International and The Union of Journalists. Additionally, the representative of the union made a verbal invitation to these negotiations on 3rd Oct and subsequently sent three separate negotiation invitations by email. None of these invitations have received any kind of response. This paints a rather disconcerting picture about the way BTI International regards the basic procedures of the Finnish labour market culture.

In all of the information meetings Ms Kaurismäki and the chief financial officer of BTI International’s parent company Broadcast Text International, Mr Henrik Wikrén, stated that terms of employment cannot be discussed during the transition period. Wikrén was completely unable to say anything about the situation after February 2013, even as the current collective agreement that ensures certain level of employment to the translators will run out in early 2013. In other words, in all of the meetings the translators were told nothing about the plans of their new employer, despite the numerous inquiries by both the translators themselves and their union representative.

So far only a fraction of the former MTV Media translators have received the offer from BTI International Oy, and completely contrary to what Ms Kaurismäki claims, the terms are nowhere near the salaries of the MTV Media contracts. At a first glance, the monthly salary of 2,800 euros may seem reasonable when compared to the MTV Media collective contract agreement; in MTV Media contract the entry-level monthly wages salaries are 3,040.33 euros for translators and 3,362.80 euros for editor-translators. Corresponding figures in the collective agreement for translation agencies in the AV sector are, respectively, 2,970 euros and 3,284 euros. The differences between these two collective agreements and the BTI International offer initially seem relatively small, but they are in truth extremely large when BTI International’s demands on daily work rate and its effect on the salary comparison is taken into account.

It was assumed that MTV's established translators would translate approximately 17 minutes of broadcast-ready screen text per working day. According to BTI International's offer, a translator is expected to produce at least 30 minutes of finished text per working day. If it is assumed that 21 working days is required for to gain a monthly salary, approximately 360 minutes of finished translation is produced following MTV Media's terms. In BTI International the corresponding amount is 630 minutes. Therefore the price of one translated minute would be under MTV's terms approximately 8.3 euros and under BTI International's 4.5 euros. Thus in practice the work pace is doubled at the same time as the salary drops lower than the entry level salary provided in the collective agreement, and the real salary is almost halved when the accelerated work pace is taken into consideration.

In the case of the transfer of business, the approximate work experience of the translators who moved to the service of the new employer was approximately 15 years, and therefore there are no beginners amongst us. That is why the monthly salary of 2,800 euros is an unreasonable offer for many translators who have acquired extensive work experience and have a high quality education as the offer does not take into consideration experience and seniority payments. An established translator who has worked for a longer period of time for MTV Media earns approximately 3,500 euros per month and therefore BTI International's offer for monthly salary is very low even without the minute price comparison.

Additionally, we are concerned of the treatment and the terms of employment of the freelance translators of BTI. They have been forced to operate as entrepreneurs although they might not have commissions from any other party. The compensation is small – at best clearly less than third of the level of the freelancers working under MTV Media’s and YLE's collective agreement called Yhtyneet-sopimus – so in order to gain basic living they have to, at worst, toil over 60-hour work weeks which also extend to the weekend. The risk of entrepreneurship is thus outsourced completely from the translation agency to its translators without counterpart. Additionally, in return for a single, very low translation fee the translation agency demands all copyrights that can be relinquished, after which it can freely resell the translations when the translator is left with nothing.

Only some of the resigned translators received an open letter from the company in which the company wanted to share their view on the information that has been circling around in the media lately. The information on translation fees published in newspaper articles and news is based on current table of fees of the freelance translators' of the parent company of BTI International Oy, Broadcast Text International Oy. Therefore the information available in public is not incorrect and misleading like Ms Kaurismäki claims but are based on real calculations.

Managing Director Kaurismäki also proclaimed in the message sent to the translators an aspiration to strengthen the cooperation between the company and the translators in order to develop the whole subtitling industry. We are puzzled into which direction the field should develop in BTI International Oy's view when its parent company has never wanted to comply with the collective agreements nor to even negotiate them, and when it demands its translators such a work pace which inevitably deteriorates the quality of the translations, not to mention the working conditions of the translators.

The 98 freelance translators who have resigned from the service of BTI International Oy