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Penalty clauses in purchase orders: question from agency to freelancers
Thread poster: a2ztranslate

a2ztranslate  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 17:16
English to Japanese
+ ...
Jul 16, 2008

Ok, I represent an agency and I have a question to pose to forum members. Recently we have been hit by previously reliable freelance translators not meeting deadlines, rushing through translations and missing sections to translate, etc. etc. We are fairly thorough in our purchase orders, detailing all of the requirements of the job, any file peculiarities, delivery dates and invoicing and payment details etc. and require our translators to read the PO and confirm all of its contents. We also pride ourselves on the promptness of our payments (check our blue board listing). Until now I have resisted having penalty clauses in the purchase order, but it is now at the stage where I have to seriously consider it. I am not talking about one line missing or a couple of hours late, as that just happens from time to time, but about whole files being missing or large segments of files not translated, or going days or even weeks over deadline. So my question for translators is, what do you view as an acceptable penalty for late translation, missing translations/missing files etc? Is it unreasonable on our part to insert this in a PO?

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:16
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
A solution: more regular translators Jul 16, 2008

First of all, let me thank you for explaining your views and concerns about this. I am just expressing my opinion as a translator.

I have long-term relationships with most of them, lasting over 10 years in several cases, more than 5 years in 95% of the cases. In that sense, I usually know by heart (or are able to check quickly in my records) what each of their end customer likes, dislikes or prefers for their jobs, products and materials. My termbase helps me keep track of customer terminology choices.

Havig said that, reading a long list of rules, preferences and requirements again and again, several times a week, once with each job, would be cumbersome and not very practical. In my opinion, rules and descriptions should be kept at a minimum, non-verbose expression right in the order email. We once had a customer who started to require us to read 20 pages or rules and requirements each time we translated 1,000 words for one their end customers. Added to some payment delays, it was enough to let the customer go.

Another thing I wanted to say is: no matter how many rules you impose and require from an inadequate translator, the result will be always worse than with a better translator and no rules.

I do not support penalties in the PO.

[Edited at 2008-07-16 05:52]


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Renée van Bijsterveld  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:16
Member (2007)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Penalty clauses should be in a general agreement Jul 16, 2008

I completely agree with Tomás: it's not the rules that make a reliable translator, it's the person of the translator.
I think it's ok to include penalties and general expectations in a general agreement with your freelancers (to be signed at the beginning of the working relationship), but a PO should only contain the job specific agreements: number of words, delivery date, tools used...
Maybe you could add a general statement (just one line) on the PO that refers to your general agreement. But, as implied, some people deliver correctly and on time without any specific rules, others just won't, no matter how many rules and agreements there are.


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
I wouldn't like that Jul 16, 2008

I wouldn't work with an agency that treated me like a child. In principle, penalty clauses are not allowed in English law, course there is always room for nuancing. If you translator turns work in late you should simply not work with that translator again. You should actively look for new translators.

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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:16
English to German
+ ...
I agree with my colleagues Jul 16, 2008

There is no reason to clutter POs with penalty clauses.

A "translator" who isn't capable of fulfilling the most basic requirements shouldn't be your vendor in the first place. The only remedy: Kick them out.

The magic word is "better translators".

Greetings,

Nicole


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 05:16
Dutch to English
+ ...
Precisely Jul 16, 2008

Nicole Schnell wrote:

There is no reason to clutter POs with penalty clauses.

A "translator" who isn't capable of fulfilling the most basic requirements shouldn't be your vendor in the first place. The only remedy: Kick them out.

The magic word is "better translators".

Greetings,

Nicole



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Marcus Geibel
Germany
Local time: 06:16
English to German
Penalty clauses won't do... Jul 16, 2008

...as has been said before.
You won't change an unprofessional attitude by some sentences on a piece of paper.

As a translator, I never missed a single deadline in more than 15 years. And I always ask for qualified feedback (only it doesn`t come in many cases). For those customers/agencies who are willing to treat me as their trusted partner and peer, I am more than prepared to break my back, and often do. It is all a question of attitude - on both sides.

Many would-be agencies are not caring for their translators teams as a valuable resource, but post every new project for a language pair and field, always on the lookout for even cheaper translators. They are spoiling the atmosphere on the market, as are those unreliable translators.

My two cents:
Building reliable long-term relationships with trusted translators, together with decent rates - that's the way. Combined of course with thorough quality assurance.

Good luck!
Marcus Geibel


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Ivana Friis Wilson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:16
Member (2008)
English to Danish
+ ...
Another "me too" Jul 16, 2008

I agree - if you are not happy with your translator, get rid of them! There's plenty more out there

I am quite sad that so many people don't take translation seriously - it's bad for the industry as a whole.

Penalties - not a good idea. Too time consuming for you as a agency.


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Kristina Kolic  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 06:16
Member (2007)
English to Croatian
+ ...
Good and reliable translators never miss a deadline Jul 16, 2008

I appreciate your asking for feedback on this from translators and I definitely understand your concerns.

The client should always come first and both translators and agencies are bound to deliver quality translations in due time. It really does not make any sense to work with translators who do not meet the requirements, either in terms of quality or deadlines.

It might have happened to many translators to miss a few words in a translation on a rush job, but nothing that could not, should not and would not be remedied by the translator within the next 5 minutes or so. The experience that you are describing is certainly a very bad one. Personally, I never heard of translators omitting large segments, not to mention a whole file, and even less of translators delivering their translation days or weeks after the deadline. This situation is just unacceptable and I would not call such a person a professional translator.

Like many of my peers, I never missed a single deadline in more than 17 years, although I usually have very short deadlines because of the specific business of my clients (legal, finance, marketing, PR), unless a client specifically asked me to postpone a specific translation job in order to provide another translation in the meantime. But this was always the client's decision, not mine.

What you are referring to has nothing to do with professional translators, who should be highly reliable, both in terms of quality and deadlines. If your translator misses a deadline, you miss it too and you will probably lose the client. Therefore, you are absolutely right to take the steps required to make sure that it does not happen again. Penalty clauses should be used to prevent such things, but only in the contracts to be signed by you and the translators; these contracts should apply to your translator-agency relationship without any time limits. I agree that a PO should not contain anything else except the details of the job, but you might include a reference to the contract that you signed with the translator.

However, your first step should definitely be to get rid of any translators who are not reliable or do not meet the agreed deadlines.


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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:16
English to Dutch
+ ...
What happened? Jul 16, 2008

a2ztranslate wrote:

Ok, I represent an agency and I have a question to pose to forum members. Recently we have been hit by previously reliable freelance translators not meeting deadlines, rushing through translations and missing sections to translate, etc. etc.

I am not talking about one line missing or a couple of hours late, as that just happens from time to time, but about whole files being missing or large segments of files not translated, or going days or even weeks over deadline.


What happened? If they were previously reliable, why did this change?
Of course, we all agree translators should be reliable and responsible, but if this has suddenly changed with the same people, I think you should try to look for the cause, rather than find some kind of punishment.

The situation you describe is unacceptable, let there be no doubt about that.

(Edited for typo)

[Edited at 2008-07-16 11:29]


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Ma.Elena Carrión de Medina  Identity Verified
Ecuador
Local time: 23:16
Member (2008)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Add me to the list! Jul 16, 2008

I´m a new member of Proz, but I´ve been in the translation business for over twelve years and did never have a problem with issues like those described in your message.

I just want to share with you that a few days ago I received an offer from an outsourcer who, first of all, sent me a PO including a clause that among other things said: "$1.00 tardy fee for every minute you miss on delivering the job on time!". I can´t recall the exact words, but I found it very offensive, specially because the rate he was paying was extremely low and also because I am a very hard-worker who does not need to be treated like that. This made me think that there is still people out there who neither understand nor value the hard work of translators... and of course, I didn´t take the job.

Anyway, I think the best option for your agency will be to follow the advice of everyone else in this forum.. find high-quality translators, you´ll never have to deal with this issue again!


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Irony Jul 16, 2008

Ma.Elena Carrión de Medina wrote:
I just want to share with you that a few days ago I received an offer from an outsourcer who, first of all, sent me a PO including a clause that among other things said: "$1.00 tardy fee for every minute you miss on delivering the job on time!".


I find these are often the same outsourcers who pay a week to a month late.

[Edited at 2008-07-16 17:48]


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
You'd better try to find out why it went wrong Jul 16, 2008

I think a penalty would not be allowed under German law, you could only try to get your damage compensated, but this would be a very complicated and expensive procedure.

So the point is rather to prevent as many problems as possible, on one hand by decent rates and deadlines, on the other hand by handing out smaller portions in the beginning (like 1000 words) which would allow you to monitor quality and timeliness before it will be too late.
I noticed that even previously reliable translators can be disappointing when they get a text from a new project which does not suit them.
BTW, I would be interested in the comments your translators gave you to excuse or explain their failures - I guess they were of a kind which made you think a kick in the a** could help?

Ma.Elena Carrión de Medina wrote:
"$1.00 tardy fee for every minute you miss on delivering the job on time!"

Maybe I would make an exception for them if they would agree to pay the same "tardy fee" for every minute their payment will arrive late, but I think this will never happen because they would never agree an average rate to start the project.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 06:16
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Nula poena sine lege Jul 16, 2008

... and no law without enforcement. Legislating is one thing, enforcing is something different. If you are hit by lousy weather conditions among your translators, just having them sign some more paper would not work. And I just dont think you can start policing them. Putting worst offenders on cold turkey?

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a2ztranslate  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 17:16
English to Japanese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the feedback Jul 16, 2008

I guess as an agency we are caught between a rock and a hard place. Probably 50% or more of the contracts I sign with clients have penalty clauses for late and/or incomplete/inaccurate delivery; this is fairly standard in many industries, not just translation. So even though we always try and work in a reasonable amount of "buffer" time to our timeframes, sometimes it can still be tight. So if a project does go over time, we, as the agency, end up taking the hit. And at the end of the day that comes off the bottom line, meaning it further restricts our ability to pay translators better rates, my project managers better salaries etc.

Yes, many comments about reliable translators, paying good rates etc. etc. are valid. However, sometimes it does beggar description when we send out a project with a very clear PO explaining the volume of the job, rate offered etc. that is then accepted by the translator, only to get an email back the day it is due saying "I didn't realise the job was so big" or "I have decided the rate is too low for me to complete" or just no reply whatsoever until several days after due date. It would seem as though sometimes people don't even read the PO in the first place, just accept it without checking that they have the time available to complete the job. And I would be the first to admit that sometimes we are not able to pay the best of rates; but that is the nature of the business, we are competing with a lot of low-cost competitors and many clients will go for the lowest number. Hell, we turn away probably 20% of the job requests we get because the rates are just too unreasonable.

While I was not advocating anything as bizarre as a per minute penalty (I would screw that contract up and throw it away as well), I would still say that e.g. reducing PO by 10% of project value per 24 hours late would be valid. Of course there will always be genuine and valid exceptions (illness etc.) but I do think at the end of the day the person taking on the contract needs to take responsibility for agreeing to a set of terms and conditions in the first place, and if they break that contract then they need to realise they may not see receive full value.

Many thanks for allowing me to vent some frustrations! I will have a think on this and again thanks for all the feedback.


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