The story of a young translator as a precarious worker

Many graduate students live as precarious workers. The precariat is a type of working exploitation, abuse, profiteering that has a variety of effects on employees’ economic, social, psychological, and professional lives.

New graduates are most exposed to this form of exploitation because they are the ones who are at the very beginning of entering the labor market. They are the ones who will accept any conditions, to gain some practical experience, to prove that they can work in any circumstances just for the employer to notice their abilities and how much they are willing to work with all their strength to not show weakness at the beginning of their career path.

Such a young person is S.K., a graduated philologist translator who got a chance to translate for one of the most successful publishing companies in North Macedonia. She immediately accepted without any hesitation, without any questions about the terms and payment, except that she emphasized that she was a novice translator with minimal experience and had worked on her two previous translations under a lector’s constant supervision. The publishing house replied that this was not a problem and that all their translators worked in parallel with the lecturer so that she too would consult with the lector during the translation of the book. They asked her how much the translation fee for a  400-page book would cost, and S.K. proposed the price according to the standard pricing rules from the translator’s association, i.e., 6 euros per page. The publishing house asked her to reduce this amount because she is a beginner translator, and S.K. agreed to be charged 4 euros per page. S.K. received ten pages for a test translation. After translating them, they were approved by the publishing house with the answer that they are well translated and that she can continue with the translation of the rest of the book.

She wished she would never translate again, fearing that she would not get what she deserved again

S.K. waited three weeks for the contract to be sent to her, during which time she worked hard without it. Three weeks later, she received an agreement without the total agreed amount. The net amount was missing 300 euros, which for a young person was a lot of money. She kindly asked them to fix the contract and was immediately sent a new one with the exact total net amount. Also, one of the contract statements was that the publishing house should pay the agreed amount three weeks after receiving the translation. During the translation, S.K. repeatedly asked for a consultation with the lecturer, but she did not get it. However, she translated the book on time and more than three weeks passed, and she had no cash flow. After contacting the publishing house that they were late with the payment, they immediately transferred the money, but 300 euros less.  After informing them that there were 300 euros less, the publishing house replied after two weeks that they were not satisfied with the translation and that they were sending it to be corrected and also that they were terminating the collaboration for the next book, on which S.K. started working and to which she devoted most of her time. She also received a threatening e-mail that if she were not planning to make the correction of the book, they would initiate legal proceedings against her and demand that the money they paid her be returned. This was tremendous psychological stress for the young translator as she had never received such a threat before. Despite the pressure, she also became demotivated. She wished she would never translate again, fearing that she would not get what she deserved again. At the same time, she wondered what would happen if she got a lawsuit, knowing that the court costs were too high. She could not afford them, which would also be a bad omen for someone just entering the translation business.

S.K. was aware that there would be mistakes, and the mistakes consisted in those parts for which she asked for a consultation from the lecturer, but as said, she did not get it. Also corrected were the ten pages that were given to her for testing and were approved. Still, after she informed them that she had not been paid the total amount, the same pages that were approved and praised for being excellently translated at the beginning, now we’re entirely corrected, and this did not make any sense. S.K. converted the book twice according to the instructions, but the money was not paid despite that. Four times she asked to be paid the whole amount agreed and signed by both parties but received a reply that the publishing house was not obliged to pay until they were delighted with the translation. Remember that before this, they told her that we’re not planning to pay the rest of the money until she made the corrections. The obligations of the publishing house under the contract were that the publisher should pay the total net amount two weeks after receiving the translation-two weeks after the deadline. The obligations of the translator were that she was obliged to correct the translation afterward, i.e., after the lecture. S.K. knew this because this is a normal process of every literary translation. One lecture of a book could take months. This doesn’t mean that the translator should wait that long to be paid. S.K. consulted a legal entity which told her that the publishing house had no grounds to file a lawsuit against her because all her obligations (submission of the translation according to the deadline, made not one but two corrections) were fulfilled. The lawyer also pointed out that the contract was not complete and was not clear-the agreement did not specify or indicate in which part of the translation procedure (before or after the corrections, or after getting an entire finished product) the money will be paid. There was no article that stated that 300 euros would be cut if they are not satisfied with the translation.

be careful when reading the contracts because there is always the possibility of something being hidden in them

A lot of time has passed, the book has been translated, the corrections have been made, and S.K. has not yet received the 300 euros that are missing according to the contract. The publishing house has not given any answer regarding the payment, whether they will ever pay her effort with the total amount or not.

S.K., in addition to financial and psychological stress damage, is also professionally damaged. Young people’s professional development is restricted by a serious factor in the precarious form. For S.K., the right to work on other literary translations and to improve her translating skills during that process was prevented. This situation is likely to be transferred to other publishing houses, so her possibility to collaborate with them will be limited as no one will hear her side of the story. Therefore, the purpose of this shared experience of the young translator is to be transmitted to the public, to reach all young people, especially translators, to be careful when reading the contracts because there is always the possibility of something being hidden in them and if they have the opportunity to consult a legal entity before signing it.

Anonymous