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Service contract or work contract?
Thread poster: Astrid Elke Witte

Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 22:57
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Jan 23, 2009

Just as a matter of interest - and regardless of whether or not, when you agree to do a translation, you agree anything other than the price and deadline - when you accept a job do you see yourself as being bound by a service contract or a work contract?

Do you consider that you should be paid - no matter what - for the service you have provided to the client (because you are providing a service), or do you consider that you are selling the client a product, and that therefore the product has to be supplied to the client's satisfaction before any payment is due to you?


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 21:57
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Haven't thought about it in those terms exactly Jan 23, 2009

As I see it, payment is due according to the agreed terms. As far as the client satisfaction issue is concerned, it's never really come up in a way which I considered a major problem. Usually the problems involve some employee at the end client who has spent a vacation somewhere in Florida and considers himself an expert in English, in which I grit my teeth, play schoolmaster with a few examples of why one has to make subjects and verbs agree in number, etc. and the matter is settled. If I screw up in some way (yes, it happens sometimes), then I make appropriate amends to the invoice or in some other way. I'm not sure how you would classify that sort of "contract", but as a rule it is important to me that the client be satisfied if this is reasonably possible. This includes long after I have been paid.

However, rarely there is a case where the client is an unverbesserlicher Besserwisser mit nichts im Kopf who would rather ruin his reputation with self-inflicted "improvements" rather than use a good translation, and in such cases I simply insist - by any means required - on getting paid. Even my legendary patience has its limits.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:57
English to Portuguese
+ ...
IMHO... Jan 23, 2009

Typically if they give you a translation and a deadline, and it's up to you to get it done, it's a service contract. You provide them with a translation service. Apart from non-disclosure issues, they shouldn't care if you did it yourself, had external help, or outsourced it completely.

If they hire you to do specific things you are capable and willing to do - about which they'll give you instructions about - at certain time intervals and places, it's a work contract. In spite of not being an employee of theirs, you'll be selling your time working.

The difference here is in management. While providing a service, you will be self-managing the work; meanwhile when fulfilling a work contract, you'll be working under their management.

This gets more interesting when you shift from translation to interpreting. Though it may seem a service, as they set the timing, it's work. You can't have the foreign speaker postpone their presentation because you have an appointment with the dentist. On the other hand, if the speaker does not show up, or arrives late, you get paid for your time anyway, for standing bv there.

[Edited at 2009-01-23 18:21 GMT]


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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
Errrr... what are the true legal distinctions? Jan 23, 2009

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote: Do you consider that you should be paid - no matter what - for the service you have provided to the client (because you are providing a service), or do you consider that you are selling the client a product, and that therefore the product has to be supplied to the client's satisfaction before any payment is due to you?


If you provide a service, isn't the client supposed to be "satisfied" with that as well? Is there some distinct difference in the law (where you come from/where I come from) about this? Can't a client (try to) withhold payment if you provide crappy service? Wouldn't they have a valid argument in court?

Curious.


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Karin Maack  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 22:57
English to German
There is a big difference Jan 23, 2009

When my car has broken down and I have it repaired, I expect it to be fully functional after that. If it is not, I will bring the car back and tell them to do their work properly.

When I have broken down and ask a doctor for help, I hope to feel better afterwards but if I don't I usually can't blame the doctor for the bad service he did.
Same with a teacher. When I teach some students English grammar and they don't get it, I will still be paid.

But that is really difficult with translations. My feeling is that it depends a bit on the text you are translating. If you are translating a manual, there are not many possibilities and you can easily tell whether the translation works or not. If you are translating a poem, the translation may be perfectly ok although your customer does not like it.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 22:57
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I am questioning the approach to translation Jan 23, 2009

I am not really concerned, however, about poetry or any cultural or artistic text, where different tastes come into the picture.

I am involved in the legal and technical fields (technical as well, due to translations involving patents) and in the past year I have come across a fair number of colleagues who take the approach that it is not too important to invest a lot of time and trouble to get a translation exactly right, however they still have a right to be paid (regardless of the result) because they have spent a certain amount of time performing a service. I find this somewhat inappropriate. This means that they are not focusing on quality, but nevertheless expect to be paid for investing whatever time they did invest. What bothers me is the effect that this may have (or already does have) on the image of the profession as a whole.

As far as I am concerned, any professional (and in particular a professional translator) ought to view the job in hand as a work contract, meaning that it is to be worked on and perfected until it is extremely precise and produced to the highest standard possible (however long that might take). Instead, I find colleagues taking the approach which I consider belongs to less academic fields of work, of simply performing a service - whether successfully or not - and assuming that this will result in payment. No wonder it is so difficult, in our profession, to charge reasonable rates!

Does anyone else find this trend towards viewing the "profession" (if it may still be called that, should the trend continue) as a service to be performed, rather than a work to be polished, a serious problem?

Astrid


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Karin Maack  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 22:57
English to German
How serious are people with what they are doing? Jan 23, 2009

I find such an attitude inapropriate, too. I think people should always know why their work is important and why they do it. Only then will they be motivated to deliver quality work. If they find your work boring or even hate their job, they will hardly have the concentration to do it well. But then they should get a different job anyway.

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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
service for some, product for others Jan 24, 2009

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

Just as a matter of interest - and regardless of whether or not, when you agree to do a translation, you agree anything other than the price and deadline - when you accept a job do you see yourself as being bound by a service contract or a work contract?

Do you consider that you should be paid - no matter what - for the service you have provided to the client (because you are providing a service), or do you consider that you are selling the client a product, and that therefore the product has to be supplied to the client's satisfaction before any payment is due to you?


My first thought was: I provide a service to direct clients and a product to agencies. However, I'm thinking in terms of the all- round service I provide to the former and the one-off nature of work for clients. The quality of the "product" is exactly the same, just that I expect to do rounds of review with a direct client, whereas with most agencies, the job is delivered and that's that unless there are problems.

My idea of service is that it's a product with added value. In translation I see the product as just that - the product, good or bad. I see the service as a higher degree of committment to a client and his/her needs.



[Edited at 2009-01-24 01:35 GMT]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 23:57
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
How many years will it take Jan 24, 2009

You know Astrid that you cannot work like that. It is true that some jobs take more time per word or per page than others, but generally we are not given time ad infinitum but have often tight deadlines.
To get a translation nearly perfect mostly would involve at least two people, the translator and the target language/culture expert who is about to use the translation.

It makes a difference if you wash a car because it is dirty or because you want to put it up for sale or on a show-stand. In the latter case you'll spend 3-5 times more time (and get paid for that time).

Regards
Heinrich


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Daniel García
English to Spanish
+ ...
I think most people see it as a service Jan 24, 2009

I think that in this forum, many people see it as a mixture of both.

From the comments I see, most of us expect to get paid no matter how (un)happy the client is.

On the other hand, I think that most of us would be ready to perform remedial actions to a certain extent if errors are found.

In some extreme cases, I have read comments in proz.com like "as they paid me so little, they should not expect I could invest much time on the translations, so the client should accept that my translation must have errors".

I find this last type of attitudes rather bizarre and I hope that not many people think like that.

Daniel


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 21:57
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Monkeys complaining about the peanuts Jan 24, 2009

dgmaga wrote:
In some extreme cases, I have read comments in proz.com like "as they paid me so little, they should not expect I could invest much time on the translations, so the client should accept that my translation must have errors".

I find this last type of attitudes rather bizarre and I hope that not many people think like that.


Yes, that attitude is disgusting. Even free translations should be given one's best effort I think. It's a matter of basic self-respect as well as protection of one's reputation. So what if the rate is low? You took the job, so do it right if you can. And maybe learn how to submit a better quotation next time.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:57
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Perhaps a service that provides a professional product? Jan 24, 2009

Certainly a bit of both.

I couldn't agree more with Kevin that once you've accepted a job, you are obliged to deliver the best possible product - whether it's pro bono, or you've accepted a ridiculously low rate-per-word or it's the best-paid job you've ever done. The result should be the same, ie the best you can do.


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 21:57
Dutch to English
+ ...
Sui generis contract ... Jan 25, 2009

... i.e. it has elements of both and doesn't necessarily comply fully with the definition of either - that's my gut feeling, but haven't thought about it in any great detail.

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:57
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Service, work... now product? Jan 25, 2009

I've given ideas on the difference between service and work, which IMHO resides on who is managing it. Repeating, you manage your service, while the client manages your work; two different situations.

Then there is the product angle. A translation on its own is seldom a product. One exception would be a sworn translation in Brazil. It's hardcopy, and any changes made to it (other than possible signature authentication - often unnecessary - and consular legalization) would be forgery.

Video translation may be used to describe all three shades:

Service - If I'm hired to translate a video for dubbing or subtitling, it's a service. They may use the output of that service to get it actually dubbed or subbed.

Work - A client may hire me to stand by during the dubbing sessions to check whether the dubbers are pronouncing foreign names properly, to make some on-the-fly changes on the translated script to improve sync, etc.

Product - A client may give me an original DVD and hire me to get them a subtitled, fully-authored, interactive DVD. They might even hire me to outsource mass duplication. That's a product.


Some colleagues here have included the commitment to quality issue. It doesn't matter which is the case from the translator's standpoint, however there are different levels the client may spoil an otherwise perfect translation job after it's done, to lower costs.


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