The National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) celebrates its fifth anniversary today (Tuesday 25 June) amid renewed warnings that government cost cutting and the unethical behaviour of some interpretation and translation agencies is harming deaf people’s access to public services.

NUBSLI, one the fastest growing branches of the UK and Ireland’s largest union, Unite, was formed five years ago by 10 BSL/English interpreters in response to planned changes to the Access to Work (ATW) scheme.

Now boasting a membership of around 40 per cent of the profession across the UK, NUBSLI was formed with the recognition that in order to protect deaf people’s access to professional interpreting services, then the profession itself needed to be protected.

Key achievements of NUBSLI in the last five years have been the development of industry wide fee guidance and the first national boycott of an agency which resulted in Language Line Solutions back tracking on cuts to terms and conditions.

During that time the union has also shone a light on government framework agreements introduced to govern the provision of interpreting and translation across local and central government.

In its Dossier of Disgrace, NUBSLI exposed how under framework agreements translation agencies are compromising standards to maximise profits by using unqualified and unregistered individuals instead of qualified, highly skilled interpreters.

In some instances, no interpreters have been provided for statutory services such as child protection meetings, court and medical appointments, while deaf defendants in court cases have been misrepresented in court by inexperienced interpreters.

A full BSL/English translation of this press release can be viewed on YouTube.

Commenting Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “Over the past five years NUBSLI has proved itself to be a powerful voice for BSL/English interpreters and deaf people in the face of government cuts and translation agencies which put profits before people.

“Providing the first line of defence to protect standards and a service that over 87,000 deaf people rely on, I would urge any BSL/English interpreters who are not a member to join NUBSLI and be a part of Unite.”

NUBSLI branch chair Rachel Smith added: “NUBSLI is determined to build on the success of our first five years. By continuing to grow, we can not only defend the profession and drive up standards, but importantly protect deaf people’s access to professional interpreting services.

“NUBSLI is a vital weapon in the fight against the erosion of deaf peoples’ rights to high quality interpreting services. We would encourage more interpreters and translators to join, because with higher representation we can assert ever more influence over key stakeholders, such as service funders and policy makers.”


For more information please contact Alex Flynn Unite head of media and campaigns on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869

Notes to editors:

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.