Current minimum rates on the translation market need to be recalibrated and reconsidered

Published by Economisch Bureau Amsterdam on

On behalf of the Ministry of Justice and Security, Amsterdam Bureau for Economics, in collaboration with Atlas Research, analyzed how the segment of the translation market functions in which the central government acts as a buyer. In this market, the government purchases translation services from translation agencies through tenders and there is a minimum rate for the fee per word that translation agencies pay to individual translators.

A system is applied in the tenders that means that translation agencies effectively cannot bid less than an average rate of 13 to 16 euro cents per word for all languages. On the one hand, this provides an additional guarantee against bids that are too low and thus against pressure on the rates that translation agencies agree with translators. On the other hand, this implies a restriction of free price formation on top of the existing minimum rate of 7.9 euro cents per word for translators and on top of the minimum price of 10 euro cents per word for translation agencies applied in tenders. There are indications that the rates determined in the tenders are therefore higher than the rates that translation agencies are willing to offer.

The regulated minimum rate of 7.9 euro cents per word has not been indexed within the Rates in Criminal Cases Decree (Besluit tarieven in strafzaken, Btis) since its introduction in 2020. However, the rates of translation agencies are indexed within the contracts put out to tender by the government. In addition, the minimum rate is based on the 2003 Btis rate, which means that there was in fact no indexation for a considerably longer period. The minimum rate is losing effectiveness in the aim it pursues, namely ensuring reasonable compensation for translators.

There is little factual and current information available about the rates that translation agencies agree with translators for assignments carried out for the government. To this end, the tender conditions stipulate that translation agencies report to the client the rates they agree with translators. Data from translation agencies show that payments often exceed the minimum rate of 7.9 euro cents per word. Translators, on the other hand, have the impression that the minimum rate often functions as a target price.

The government uses various instruments to guarantee the quality of translations, such as quality requirements in the context of the Sworn Interpreters and Translators Act (Wet beëdigde tolken en vertalers), registration in the Register of Sworn Interpreters and Translators (Register beëdigde tolken en vertalers), and quality assessment in tenders.

Amsterdam Bureau for Economics has made the following recommendations to the Ministry of Justice:

  • Recalibrate the minimum rate for translators and apply annual indexation.
  • Consider abandoning the minimum rate that applies to translation agencies in tenders, as well as the minimum order value.
  • Make ISO certification mandatory for all tenders.
  • In the long term, consider abandoning the minimum rate for translators, based on data to be collected and analyzed about the rates that translation agencies agree with translators.

The report can be read here.

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