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

Just Posted

The Greater Victoria School District continues to face backlash over its wording and approach to Indigenous learners in its 2021-2022 budget talks. (Black Press Media file photo)
School district’s approach to Indigenous learners leaves Victoria teachers ‘disgusted’

Backlash grows over ‘pattern of colonial thinking permeating the leadership’

Colin Dowler survived a grizzly bear attack July 29, 2019 on Mt. Dougie Dowler on the south coast of British Columbia and reports that his physical and mental rehabilitation is still ongoing. Photo courtesy Colin Dowler
‘Bad-ass dude that took on a grizzly bear’ doesn’t let 2019 attack bring him down

Campbell River’s Colin Dowler gets on with his life as his rehabilitation continues

Arrowsmith Search and Rescue manager Ken Neden, as he goes over the events of the Qualicum Falls river rescue on Dec. 12, 2020, for a United Kingdom television program “Unbelievable Moments Caught on Camera’. (Mandy Moraes photo)
UK TV show spreading news of daring Qualicum Falls river rescue across the world

Arrowsmith SAR trio share their accounts for ‘Unbelievable Moments Caught on Camera’

An elderly man having a medical emergency in Mount Douglas Park on May 13 was rescued by firefighters and paramedics with the help of ATVs. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Rescue team uses ATVs to get man in medical distress out of Saanich park and to hospital

Cedarhill Road closed as firefighters, paramedics rescue man in Mount Douglas Park

While recovering several items reported stolen from the set of a Netflix movie in early April, West Shore RCMP also seized drugs and drug trafficking items from a Colwood residence last week. (Black Press Media file photo)
Electronics, credit cards taken from Netflix series set found in Colwood home

West Shore RCMP seize stolen items, drugs, trafficking materials

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

Superintendent Aaron Paradis, community services officer with the Surrey RCMP, during a media availability about a recent drug bust in Port Coquitlam. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Police seize 13 million ‘potentially fatal doses’ of fentanyl at commercial B.C. warehouse

The evidence was seized at large, illicit drug manufacturing site in Port Coquitlam

Left to right: Royal Bay students Payton Gust, Oskar Wood, Cheyenne Norman, Julia Morrison, Tanisha Spiller and Izzy Kroll made up the team who painted their high school’s crosswalk. (Royal Bay Secondary School photo)
Senior student leaves mark at Vancouver Island high school for LGBTQ+ students

Crosswalk at Colwood’s Royal Bay Secondary painted in support of marginalized community members

Pathfinders and Wild Wise Sooke built slim, black bat houses to be hung around Sooke. (Submitted/Wild Wise Sooke)
Vancouver Island teens build bat condos

Wild Wise Sooke says bats will sleep, hibernate and raise their young in the boxes

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth debates the province’s latest measure to control crime, March 10, 2021. The legislation allows police to impound vehicles used to transport weapons and further restricts sale of vehicle and body armour. (B.C. legislature video)
B.C. seeking ways to ‘name and shame’ gangsters, minister says

Mike Farnworth appeals to family members to talk to police

The Arts Council of Ladysmith and District is working with several Vancouver Island art councils on the Digitial Innovation Group to improve digital skills for Island artists. (Submitted photo)
Arts group promotes digital literacy for Island artists

The goal is to leverage digital skills to promote Vancouver Island as an ‘arts powerhouse’

Jonathan Prest had to climb way up to the top of a dead red cedar tree to rescue a terrified cat, but he made it up and down successfully. (Facebook photos)
Tree cutter rescues cat stuck 100 feet up a dead and dried-out cedar

Jonathan Prest put himself in extreme peril to get a terrified cat out of a dangerous situation

Knappett Projects safety manager Cori Coutts celebrates her recognition for COVID-19 safety by the B.C. Construction Association with John Knappett. (Photo courtesy of BCCA)
Victoria worker honoured for commitment to COVID safety

Safety manager Cori Coutts has helped to keep Knappett Projects jobsites COVID-free

Nanaimo RCMP were asking for help locating a missing 32-year-old woman who has since been located and is safe. (Photo submitted)
UPDATE: Nanaimo woman who left home in ‘agitated state’ found safe

32-year-old left her home May 13 without taking any belongings, say police

Most Read