European border agency accused of exploiting interpreters ‘paid less than €2.50 an hour’ | European Union

EU border agency Frontex has been accused of exploiting staff by using a contractor it claims is offering interpreters an effective wage of less than €2.50 (£2.11) an hour .

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the EU’s best-funded agency with a budget of €754 million, is called upon by interpreters who work with vulnerable asylum seekers in places like Greece, Italy and the Canary Islands.

A petition on the website claims that Frontex is “exploiting its own staff” and breaching European standards on pay and working conditions, by using a third-party contractor who offers low wages.

Mohammed Moctar, an interpreter and cultural mediator behind the petition, said he had never been offered such a low salary in eight years working for EU agencies, including Frontex. “This latest offer from SeproTec is the worst offer I have ever received as an interpreter,” he said, referring to the Madrid-based company which recently won a contract to supply interpreters to Frontex. .

Mohammed Moctar said he was speaking despite the risk of being out of work. Photography: Rob van Beek

Moctar, who speaks 10 languages ​​including English, French, Italian, Classical Arabic, Soninke and his mother tongue Sango, said Frontex should take responsibility for the interpreters. “I am speaking out, with the risk of not being hired, but this case concerns many others who prefer to remain anonymous, for fear of losing their job or diminishing their chances of finding work”, he said. declared.

In July, Moctar was offered €1,800-2,000 a month to work at an undetermined location in Spain for SeproTec, according to an email seen by the Guardian. While on paper the salary is well above the Spanish minimum wage, interpreters point out that they are expected to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The wage that has been offered amounts to less than €2.50 an hour, taking into account the 24/7 working week,” the petition reads. At least two other people have been offered similar rates, according to screenshots seen by the Guardian.

SeproTec dismissed the allegations as “grossly biased”, saying its salaries were between five and eight times what the petition said.

Interpreters can never be more than 30 minutes from their home base and may have to work up to 12 hours at a time, often dealing with traumatized people who have endured terrifying sea crossings.

Moctar was previously paid more than double by another agency working for Frontex, with a package including accommodation and transport.

Not including these benefits is unreasonable, the petitioners argue. Frontex interpreters are deployed for a few months at a time in tourist hotspots where short-term accommodation is expensive. “We are asking for a reasonable salary per month plus accommodation, transportation and flight costs,” said the petition, which had been signed by 182 people on August 12.

One signatory, who said he had worked for Frontex for many years, through another contractor, said he was not prepared to “compromise my interpreting and cultural mediation skills” for low pay.

The row comes months after the executive director of Frontex quit following an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud agency, amid long-running allegations of Frontex collusion in the unlawful pushback of asylum seekers.

Each year, the border agency relies on the skills of 80 interpreters and cultural mediators employed by third-party service providers. He describes their work as “crucial to the functioning of our operations”.

The Warsaw-based agency said it appreciates the professionalism of interpreters and cultural mediators, people who can understand a region’s dialects, accents, culture and customs. “They are present during interviews with migrants coming to Europe and greatly facilitate the registration and identification procedures.”

The job can be stressful, with a heavy mental toll of telling traumatic first-person stories. “You can have an interview with a girl who said ‘they raped me when I was with my mother’ or ‘they raped my mother’; so you can’t interpret it as ‘plaintiff says they raped my mother’, you’ll just interpret ‘my mother’,” Moctar said. “I think for performers, that psychological pressure makes you sad.”

After Moctar called on Acting Frontex Director Aija Kalnaja to ‘take immediate action, offering acceptable working conditions and wages’, the agency refused to get involved, suggesting that he contact the authorities Spanish labor market.

In a letter to Moctar, Frontex said it had no legal responsibility for the staff employed by the contractors, noting that these organizations were bound by EU and international law. “The resources, including interpreters and cultural mediators, that the contractor makes available for the purposes of implementing this [contract] are in no way considered statutory staff of Frontex,” the agency said, citing the contract.

Responding to questions from The Guardian, Frontex made a similar point, adding: “We have read the petition from interpreters and cultural mediators with great concern. We would like to point out that Frontex does not accept unethical or illegal working conditions.

“We have contacted the supplier to remind them of their obligations and to stress that Frontex will monitor the implementation of the contract and whether all the conditions for the workers are respected.”

He added: “We have also retained the right to terminate the contract in the event of irregularities, fraud or breach of contractual obligations.”

A SeproTec spokesperson said: “We consider the information provided in the petition to be manifestly biased. [and] intentionally done to harm our brand.

They claimed wages were “much higher” than the petition stated: “The equivalent per hour would be at least five times higher than the €2.50 mentioned in the petition and in some countries up to eight times higher. “

SeproTec added that its records of services provided to Frontex showed that cultural mediators worked an average of 32 hours per week, with less than 5% of the time outside normal working hours. It said it paid allowances to fully or partially cover housing costs in “isolated cases” when it was necessary to move staff to another country. “The company has a strict policy of compliance with the applicable legal framework,” he added.

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