Finnish av translators get organized - 2010

In summer 2009, two Finnish AV translators reached the breaking point with a translation agency that once again lowered its salaries. They decided to contact other agency translators, who at that point were splintered all over the country, and establish communications with them. Together with a small group of other active colleagues they established an online discussion forum for the purpose. The biggest challenge was to find translators who, even though working for the same agency, were often not even aware of each other. Some were contacted after gathering their names from the end credits of television shows.

In December, word came out that the multinational translation Broadcast Text International had won the bidding war over providing subtitles for a major Finnish TV channel. The new deal left the Finnish company Pre-Text Oy and its 60 translators without a job. The decision was based solely on money – quality or a long-lasting relationship with the previous agency did not even come into the equation.

Soon after the new deal was announced, recruiting messages from Broadcast Text started appearing on the mailing lists of several universities that offer language-based teaching. It seemed the company had no intention to even try to woo the experienced subtitlers from Pre-Text to come and work for them for less than half their former pay. The apparent goal was to recruit students straight out of school to fill the gaps. Students were quickly invited to join the online community to discuss the situation, which opened many eyes to the predicament the industry finds itself in. Forum activists also contacted universities that offer translation or other language teaching programs and sent AV translators to speak to students about their work and the realities of the field.

As a result of both translators and students demanding better working conditions, all three major translation agencies in Finland agreed to join negotiations initiated in March by the Union of Journalists, Translation Industry Professionals KAJ and The Finnish Assiociation of Translators. The aim of the negotiations is to put an end to the price trampling by creating a collective agreement which the translation companies would follow. Unfortunately, Broadcast Text soon withdrew from the negotiations – but lost two major clients and a lot of translators as a result. The negotiations continue nevertheless with Pre-Text and SDI Media Finland.

A public information website was built around the forum in the course of the spring. On it, translators wrote and collected texts intended to give information to the public, translation students as well as their colleagues about audiovisual translating. During the first week of operation the site was accessed over 15 000 times, thanks to an active grapevine campaign on Facebook, mailing lists and online forums. During the spring, also the media started paying attention to the AV translators’ negotiations.

Freelancers’ work is often lonely, but with the help of the online forum and Facebook, Finnish AV translators can now spend time in each others’ virtual company. On the forum, people help each other with translation dilemmas and discuss the work and the state of the industry, but also chat about other things and get to know each other. A single translator has little power over large companies, but when a larger group demands change together, something is bound to happen. We encourage translators in other countries to follow our lead, find each other and start talking.

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Anna-Maija Ihander 1.9.2010