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

A worker at Wee Geordies Liquor Store held at knifepoint on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. A female entered the store and grabbed a bottle of liquor and produced a knife and demanded money. She was not located. (Wee Geordies video surveillance screenshot)
VIDEO: Two stores robbed on the same day in Kitimat

The first incident was at 5:45 a.m. and the second incident occurred 3:30 p.m.

McElhanney worked with the builder, LHLP, to develop a fishway in a highly constrained and fluctuating waterway. (McElhanney file photo)
McElhanney win natural resources and habitat award for the Anderson Creek Fishway

Local team used design elements to minimize the environmental impact of the LNG Canada construction

The community food share garden that was located in Mountainview Square between Pet Valu and BC Liquor store has been relocated to the Cornerstone garden between No frills and the lower mall access. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Kitimat Food Share Garden getting set up for the season

The District of Kitimat has also contributed $30,600 in 2021 to the TSWA’s Food Share program

An aircraft gets serviced at the Northwest Regional Airport. An apron expansion project undertaken in October last year, will be able to accommodate six aircrafts once ready in May. (Binny Paul/ Terrace Standard)
VIDEO: Northwest Regional Airport apron expansion work nears completion

The $2 million project was undertaken to accommodate increased LNG Canada charter traffic

Kitimat RCMP searching for two robbery suspects. (File photo)
Two robbers, both armed with knives, sought

Incidents took place at corner store, liquor store

A worker at Wee Geordies Liquor Store held at knifepoint on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. A female entered the store and grabbed a bottle of liquor and produced a knife and demanded money. She was not located. (Wee Geordies video surveillance screenshot)
VIDEO: Two stores robbed on the same day in Kitimat

The first incident was at 5:45 a.m. and the second incident occurred 3:30 p.m.

Bradley Priestap in an undated photo provided to the media some time in 2012 by the London Police Service.
Serial sex-offender acquitted of duct tape possession in B.C. provincial court

Ontario sex offender on long-term supervision order was found with one of many ‘rape kit’ items

Rich Coleman, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, was recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month. (Screenshot)
Coleman questioned over $460K transaction at River Rock during B.C. casinos inquiry

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about 2011 interview on BC Almanac program

Steven Shearer, <em>Untitled. </em>(Dennis Ha/Courtesy of Steven Shearer)
Vancouver photographer’s billboards taken down after complaints about being ‘disturbing’

‘Context is everything’ when it comes to understanding these images, says visual art professor Catherine Heard

Trina Hunt's remains were found in the Hope area on March 29. Her family is asking the public to think back to the weekend prior to when she went missing. (Photo courtesy of IHIT.)
Cousin of missing woman found in Hope says she won’t have closure until death is solved

Trina Hunt’s family urges Hope residents to check dashcam, photos to help find her killer

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Police are at Ecole Mount Prevost Elementary but the students have been evacuated. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Gardener finds buried explosives, sparking evacuation of Cowichan school

Students removed from school in an ‘abundance of caution’

A COVID-19 patient receives oxygen outside a hospital in Jammu, India, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP/Channi Anand)
B.C. donates $500K to Red Cross COVID-19 relief efforts in India

The money will provide oxygen cylinders and ambulances for patients in communities grappling with the virus

Most Read