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Yet another thought on translation rates

According to a news report earlier this week, workers in the UK are enjoying a real pay rise — pay rise above the annual inflation rate — for the first time in four years.

I was quoting on a job that came in yesterday when it occurred to me that the “standard translation rate” I quote to agencies is the rate I set in 2001, when I became a qualified member of the ITI.

Yes, I’ve so far resisted the constant pressure from large translation agencies to lower my rates and ignored advice from them that my rates are way above the going rate. I’ve had lean periods that made me wonder if I was being too stubborn for my own good. Maybe I would see a constant stream of work flowing my way or perhaps entice some of my former clients back if only I was willing to swallow my pride and knocked a couple of pence off my word rate. But then, I’ve also had busy periods, really busy periods, periods when I was so busy I had to turn down jobs from my regular clients. So here’s where I’m at now, with still no change to my tariff; I haven’t been able to raise my rates, but I haven’t (so far) drop them either.

But what does this really mean?  According to the Office for National Statistics, the  median full-time gross weekly earnings in the UK were £517 last year (April 2013). In 2001, the  median full-time gross weekly earnings were £376. In other words, the earnings in the UK has gone up by over 37% since 2001, mostly to keep up with inflation, while my pay has stayed the same. In relative terms that’s really a pay cut, right?

Most of the things we buy now are more expensive than 13 years ago. My translations are, I suppose, one of the exceptions. I did contemplate index-linking my rates a while ago, in the good old pre-recession days, but I never felt it would go down well with my clients so I kept my old prices. Yet the pressure to reduce rates has been pretty constant all this time. Are translations getting cheaper? Are large agencies charging their clients less? Has the market been overrun by the translation equivalent of cheap imports? Where do we freelancers  — many working for agencies  — stand in the big picture?

This post doesn’t have an answer to any of these questions — I thought I’d share what popped into my mind today and invite views on it. Your comments are most welcome.

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