How much should You pay Translators during the coronavirus recession?

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If you regularly hire translators or are looking engage a translation services provider for the first time, you’ve probably asked yourself, how much to pay for translation services. Chances are you’ve also asked how much you should pay a translator during a coronavirus recession.

After all, the covid pandemic has caused mass layoffs and furloughs for tens of millions of workers worldwide, having triggered the closures and entry into voluntary administration of thousands of companies who ‘bled so much cash’ during the pandemic they couldn’t make it.

Companies that didn’t fold up are hanging on for dear life, many reportedly handing pay cuts to employees across the board, in addition to sack letters for thousands more. In the fallout from the virus, a record 43 million people filed for unemployment in the US. Universal Credit claims in the UK surged 70% in just one month during the pandemic, with at least ten million jobs  taken into the UK government’s furlough scheme. Which may be thought of as the Australian Coronavirus Job Keeper and Job Seeker scheme, but not on steroids.

Indeed, the shock waves coronavirus has sent across the world have been devastating, leaving many businesses like yours asking, isn’t it time to do a downward review of how much we pay our workers, particularly translators?

Well, the short answer is no, and here are seven reasons why.

1)   The price of essential goods and services across the economy rose during the pandemic.

With the exception of crude oil, of course, which went into negative territory in the middle of the pandemic. The lockdown decimated the demand (and hence price) of petrol since there were virtually no cars on the road needing petrol during the coronavirus.

Other than that, reports of price gouging by companies selling essential supplies and cleaning products are rife. Though it is easy to sit on our moral armchairs and decry them as evil for increasing prices, it is worth noting that global supply chains were disrupted around the world, severely affecting supply from producers that depended heavily on such supply chains. Limited movement and restricted access to markets during the pandemic led to real concerns over a COVID-19 food crisis.   

Going by common-sense economics, translators and translation services providers would be happy to beat down the prices of their services if the cost of providing such services nosedived. Since the costs stayed the same, or even increased, at best, employers cannot conscionably expect a massive drop in the cost of labour.

2)  Workers, translators inclusive, generally work for clients under an implicit contract that the pay is fixed, largely, and that the employer will try and keep wages from falling in a bust. The employee, on the other hand, should not expect a massive rise in pay during an economic boom. In this way, things are held steady and some stability is brought into the employer-employee relationship.

So if you had a translator who you were paying a fixed salary that actually rounds out to $40,000 per year, for instance, when you were turning in $10 million in annual profits, kept paying him the same when you were turning in $15 million in profits, the expectation is that when your profits slumped to $1 million in the year of Covid-19, you should

  • take the loss and stick with your translator at the same rate, or
  • fire him if you can no longer afford to retain their services at the agreed rate.

The middle ground of keeping him/her on reduced pay for a period of time would be fraught with difficulty.

Because once used to being paid well, it’s kinda hard to get used to being paid badly.

3) You will likely lose your best translators if you reduce wages across the board for all your translators.

Because your best translators, who will likely be the most highly paid, would typically have greater access to better paying opportunities elsewhere.

So when you slash pay across the board, you make your company less attractive for the top translators.

Goodluck with all the disgruntled clients, disputes, and endless revisions you would get with bottom-of-the rung talent.

4) A high unemployment rate does not necessarily translate into lower average wages.

During a recession, businesses close and a lot of people are laid off.

A good number of the people who remain unemployed are voluntarily unemployed, i.e. they are not willing to work below the equilibrium wage.   

So even though the unemployment rate rose from 3.8% in February, to 13.0% in May, levels not seen since the Great Depression, rest assured that a good chunk of those would rather not work than work for lower than equilibrium wages.

Wages are so sticky downwards that the minimum wage increased in one country smack bang in the middle of the pandemic, despite several companies and businesses calling it outrageous.

Equilibrium wage graph
The equilibrium wage Graph. During a recession, the Wage, W, is higher than the equilibrium wage, We. The excess supply of Labour at that Wage is represented by the bracket and is equal to the number of unemployed. (Photo credit: Principles of Macroeconomics. Open Stax College, 2014)

5) Most translators like to think there is an intrinsic value to their work, which does not rise and fall according to the prevailing economic situation.

Especially the native speakers.

Most went through years, decades of education and steady practice to become native speakers qualified to translate in their language pairs.

They typically tend to assign value to that, irrespective of what the market thinks.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.,

All labour that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance, and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

For this reason, and since shortcuts may not be taken if a translation will be quality, most professional translators will not agree to significant cuts to their rates because of a coronavirus recession.

6) The powers that be have a vested interest in holding things steady

Governments around the world have a vested interest in doing everything possible to prevent a crash of the financial system.

From Trump’s bid for a second term and the obvious desire to deliver superb economic figures at any human cost, to the high expectations facing the Boris Johnson government following a sweeping election victory just the year before, won on the wave of Getting Brexit done and unleashing Britain’s potential, it would be quite a bummer and a good helping for the opposition if the government sits through a collapse of the economy.

Therefore, all tools in the government’s armoury, notably aggressive stimuli, fiscal and monetary policy are being unleashed to weather the crisis to the economy.

The furlough scheme is sustaining consumer spending, albeit weakened but still reasonably strong.

The government is opening up the economy and allowing people go back to work, albeit with restrictions around social distancing.

The Coronavirus Corporate Finance Facility was set up to enable as many businesses pull through to the other side of the pandemic.

The Monetary Policy Committee has doubled down to ensure they fulfill their remit to maintain price stability. This includes a £100 billion boost to the economy from the Bank of England.

So no, there will be no crash in asset prices. Property prices will hold steady and the loans issued against such property will be paid.

How important are property prices to the health of the financial system?

Hugely important. Because when property prices crash, there is a high level of delinquency among borrowers, who borrowed money against such property.

When there is a nationwide crash in property prices, there are mass defaults because borrowers don’t feel inclined to pay back their loans as they would be better off not paying their loans and losing their home.

This is the mass defaulting doomsday scenario that caused by a crash in property prices, which subsequently pushed financial institutions towards collapse in the 2008 financial crisis.

With COVID-19, all the data indicate that such a crash in property prices will not happen.

Property prices are holding steady.

So, your workers’ wages will largely hold steady as well.

Stock market outlook.
Stock markets around the world suffered the greatest fall in history as the pandemic took hold. But they also saw the fastest rebounds ever as lockdowns were eased around the world.

7) Scientific and technological advances have afforded mankind a raft of mitigation and adaptation measures during pandemics.

From the different COVID-19 tests to antibody tests, all the way to contact tracing apps and changes to our behaviour made possible by technology.

Thanks to high-speed internet, many can work, manage teams and video-conference from home, things that weren’t possible during the influenza outbreak of 1918, and not dreamt of during the Black Death.

Students are able to learn from home, at least, to a significant degree.

And while the barrage of Edtech apps that hit the market during the pandemic might cause more confusion than help, it at least gives an indication of the possibilities offered by technology for distance learning.

Thanks to technological capabilities, economic activity was not reduced entirely to nil during the lockdown.

Technology has helped significantly soften the blow of the virus on the economy.

This means the recession will be everything but a worst-case scenario.

So the cost of labour will remain largely the same.

So there you have them, 7 reasons (some no-brainer, some not so much), why it would be a bad idea to pay your translators less during the coronavirus recession.

Did we miss anything? Do you disagree with the post as a whole?

Have your say in the comments below.

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