Athens: “Ink stains”, communiqué by SMED, base union of workers in the field of translation, editing, proofreading and subtitling in Greece

Note: Contra Info translation network is neither a collective of “certified specialists”, nor affiliated to the SMED itself, therefore only disseminates the following communiqué to make a very typical case of employer’s immunity in Greece wider known.
Truism No.1
Melani (“Ink”) Editions delegated the translation of a book to a colleague, after having approved sample of her work, agreed on her payment and signed a lawful agreement. However, following the translation’s delivery, “mistakes” and “deficiencies” were discovered (how extremely rare, odd and outrageous in our work…), so the translator was asked to correct the translation herself, in other words to do unpaid work for the publisher’s sake, which ought to be delegated to a practicing editor in the first place. The employer was killing two birds with one stone. We are, of course, well aware of the fact that the publishers (who otherwise show excessive interest in the quality of their books) would like to find (or rather construct?) the ideal type of worker, the person who will do all required jobs for the price of one: translator, editor, proofreader, even typesetter/layout designer and typographer/printer; perhaps also vendor, carrier and warehouse worker —an inexpensive and useful multi-tool, and above all dumb, as all tools ought to be.

Truism No.2
For a year and a half, although the lady publisher had the translation in her hands, not only refrained from publishing the book, but did not care to even start paying the predetermined fee to the translator for her work (i.e. the immense amount of 120 euros per 16 pages of a highly densely written original text, for only the translation of course; the editing was considered the worker’s nonprofit offering to the enlightened boss), despite the fact that the colleague could all the while constantly be reached. When finally the “Association of Translators, Editors and Proofreaders”/SMED intervened in favour of the colleague, demanding her immediate payment in full, the publisher stated that it is only reasonable that she cannot pay the agreed, citing, among several innovationisms (see below), some standard lines: the market conditions, the economic difficulties of her own, the drop in sales, even… the plight of the country. Moreover, it is known that, as far as book publishers are concerned, translators and editors—oddly enough when it’s the time to be paid—are portrayed as “collaborators” who “have” to bear the damages of businesses, if not of the very country itself, namely to share the losses, while they never share the profits.

Next to all these trivialities, however, also some brilliant originalities appear:

Innovationism No.1
Even before SMED’s intervention in the case, the publisher had already announced on the editions’ website that the book is due to be published, translated by… the publisher herself(!), although the agreement with the colleague remains in force and the translation is ready since a year and a half. The colleague protested, and the publisher hastened to hide the post in question from her business website. A promising start for the even more imaginative sequel:

Innovationism No.2
After successive meetings, discussions and controversies, the publisher refused to settle the colleague’s payment, this time in a definitive manner, arguing that the translation is “bad” and in need of “lots of revisions,” for which “there is no money.” She was merely implying a fez (Turkish work used for unpaid debt) under the guise of quality. So, when you earn a living as a translator, not only should you become an editor of your work, too, but also if the publisher doesn’t want to, he/she might not pay for your work. Whether an employee will be paid for work already done, in these gloomy times of violent circumvention of any kind of rights, depends entirely on the employer’s moods and appetites. Nevertheless, everyone can realize the obvious: if a translation is no longer good or satisfactory, and becomes “bad” and “unacceptable”, depends solely on whether the publisher wants to pay or not. “Errors” can be “discovered” in any translation, and are nothing but pretexts for publishers so as to speculate at our expense.

Innovationism No.3 (a venomous one)
The publisher, in an unprecedented move, had the nerve to send to the colleague an extrajudicial document, asking for compensation for escaped profits due to the non-publication of the book and the loss of the rights issue that had been granted from the foreign publisher. This is an unheard demand. A publishing company is asking for compensation from an eternally indebted translator for not publishing a book for which the sole responsibility lies with the company itself. No reference whatsoever was made to the “escaped” (for a year and a half) fee of the colleague, neither to all of the tricks to which the publisher has resorted in order not to do the obvious: pay in full the colleague’s fee for the translation.

The messages are clear by now: Firstly, owners of publishing companies can refuse to pay translators and editors at their own discretion, on the pretext of the “poor quality” of their work. Secondly, colleagues who claim their fees are likely to be found in courts. Thirdly, workers that do any job not only won’t know if they’ll get paid for it, but they better wish that they won’t have to pay their employers out of their own pocket.

Faced with this “civilization” of unpaid labour, of every fez and extrajudicial order, the civilization of our impoverishment, we respond with the civilization of solidarity, collectiveness and dignity. SMED will continue to struggle until the full payment of our colleague for her work, helping her by all unionist and legal means. No intimidation will go unanswered; no publisher will continue to represent the “culture bearer” at the expense of practitioners and workers who toil to ensure the production and quality of books and prints.

None colleague should be left alone
Now and ever, united against the undervaluation of our work / syl.smed[at]gmail[dot]com