Under interim deal, interpreters can cut off MEPs if they don’t practice good audio hygiene.
The European Parliament’s interpreters have called off a partial strike, in place since June, after union representatives struck an interim deal with the institution on working conditions on Monday.
Unions representing the interpreters withdrew their strike notice “with immediate effect” in anticipation of further talks on the Parliament’s post-pandemic working methods, scheduled to start in November, according to a letter sent to the institution’s president, Roberta Metsola, seen by POLITICO. The interim deal will be in force until the end of the year.
Interpreters walked off the (virtual) job in June in protest of problems that arose due to MEPs teleworking during the pandemic. With lawmakers calling into meetings from cars, restaurants and other places with poor connections and sound quality, interpreters complained of deteriorating health, saying they were suffering from tinnitus, insomnia, nausea and vision issues, among other problems.
Since June, the interpreters have refused to interpret members who dialed in to meetings remotely, though they continued to work on in-person addresses.
Under the interim deal struck on Monday, hybrid meetings will now be fully interpreted — as long as all speakers have adequate image and sound quality. Lawmakers and European commissioners have also received professional-grade microphones to improve their audio, and MEPs have been issued guidelines for remote working and warned that if they don’t adhere to them, they could be cut off from interpretation.
In the letter sent by the unions to Metsola, the reps said the interim agreement “does not change the fact that good sound quality and cooperative speaker behaviour are paramount,” adding: “should those preconditions fail to materialise, interpreters might be unable to interpret.”
A representative of one of the unions that lodged the strike notice said interpreters were “happy that we finally have provisional rules,” describing the interim arrangement as “a start.”
The union rep added: “We just regret that it took so long to get to this point,” saying the European Parliament’s Directorate General for Logistics and Interpretation for Conferences “was not open to dialogue” before the Parliament president “took the matter in her hands.”
The union rep said the breakthrough came after Metsola’s head of Cabinet, Alessandro Chiocchetti, was asked to broker the talks.
Chiocchetti, whom the Parliament Bureau asked to mediate the negotiations, has been a controversial figure, after Metsola appointed him as the Parliament’s secretary-general, after incumbent Klaus Welle announced he would step down at the end of the year.
A European Parliament spokesperson said: “The interim agreement secured is a good compromise between the needs of operational continuity in the European Parliament and interpreters’ health concerns related to the changes in the EP working methods.”