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Tender season again...
Thread poster: Peter Shortall

Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:10
Member
French to English
+ ...
Mar 28, 2015

At least once a year, I go through periods when a plethora of translation agencies - some of which I know, some of which I've never heard of - ask me if I am interested in participating in a call for tenders to provide translations to EU institutions. Right now, it seems to be "tender season" again, as I've had about a dozen reqests for documentation proving my work experience.

Some time ago, I decided that I would be willing to participate in these tenders only with one or two agencies that I have done similar work for in the past. Of course I realize that they may not win again and it might all be in vain, but I oblige because I like working with them, I want to stay on good terms with them and they're the kind of agencies I'd like to see winning these contracts, as I believe it's good for our profession if responsible, professional agencies can increase their share of the market.

This year, I have noticed something new in some of the emails I've received. One or two have mentioned that there are procedures in place to ensure that if an agency is successful, it will have to provide evidence to the EU that it assigns the work to the translators named in the bid and not to someone else (can't remember the exact wording, but it was along those lines). If that's the case, I'm happy that the EU has closed that loophole.

But what hasn't changed is the requirement to provide a fair amount of paperwork. This time around, I've been asked to demonstrate proven experience of 1500 standard pages in the relevant language pair. This proof, I was told, can include reference letters from customers, invoices, book covers or contracts for translation work.

I'd be interested to know what fellow translators think of these requirements. To me, invoices seem like a strange thing to ask for; for one thing, I wouldn't want to be giving sensitive business information like that away to any agency that asks for it (price, contact details, details of work done, etc.) - and of course, anyone can create bogus invoices for work they haven't actually done. How will the EU know the invoices are genuine? If they can contact the end client to check, would many of our clients feel happy about that kind of information being disclosed? I suspect not. This problem wouldn't apply to book covers (assuming the books have already been published), but then not all translators have translated books; I wonder what proportion of us have.

I also have a problem with the reference letter requirement. More than one of my regular clients have contacted me about the current EU tender, so if I asked them for reference letters, the timing of my request would provide a clue that I was planning to give them to rival agencies for the same tender! Then there's the fact that these tenders seem to come around at fairly regular intervals. Asking clients for references is something I prefer not to do often, as I don't like to impose - especially for what is, after all, only potential work.

Do other translators feel the same way? Should the EU reconsider the way it vets translators for these tenders, or do you think the system is fine as it is?


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Luca Tutino  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 22:10
Member (2002)
English to Italian
+ ...
I agree, but would not know what else to suggest Mar 28, 2015

I wonder and feel the same way, and I would also mention that contracts often include a non-disclosure clause and - even when they do not - it is mostly inappropriate to disclose them to virtually unknown third parties in such a way.

On the other side, I understand that a public tender needs objective evidence and I am afraid that any other system I can think of could be easily bent to personal use.


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EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:10
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
I never participate in EU tenders... Mar 29, 2015

... as I am not eligible, but as to reference letters - don't you have direct clients? I always use these as references, to avoid any competition issues.

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János Untener  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 22:10
Member (2010)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
The only reason why I do not Mar 29, 2015

participate in these tenders is the requirement to provide 2 references.

In the past year I was contacted by ~10 agencies asking for my participation and in the end
I decided to fill out the tedious paperwork and provide the necessary details for 2 agencies.

They in fact contacted my references. Now imagine the PMs - who were kind enough to let me
provide their e-mail address for the purposes of these tenders - being contacted by ten different agencies
all asking for the same reference. I would definitely be annoyed.

This year I decided to participate with only one agency (one I've already worked with). I will
reply with a polite "Sorry, but I am busy" to the other potential requests.

UJ


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Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 21:10
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
Sometimes unrealistic Mar 29, 2015

Peter Shortall wrote:

1500 standard pages in the relevant language pair.


This requirement comes to me as "1500 standard pages in the relevant language pair" + in the releveant field, and that kills me.
First, I work in several language pairs in several fields. I can come close to one or another field but at least both ways of translation would be included while the rewuierement is from A into B but not vice versus.
Second, I've worked for several years for a company specifically in EU documentation translations but quitted, for their editing policy was too funny and burdensome for a translator. Surely, they do not provide references to me. Contracts - maybe one or two clients of mine in total have ever provided contracts. Other agencies - they also participate in the same tenders, so there is the same dark side the Peter has addressed to. Some clients have just closed. The national courts jdon't simply understand the request of a reference. Invoices - sorry, that's between the client and me, and only between us.
And when I do manage to meet the imposed criteria, most of the times I don't hear from the agency anymore. It has also happened, though, that I would start working on a tender project for a successful agency but then they would request to use their software with extensive fuzzy match discounts and awful TMs where I would have to say thanks no thanks when my good will would expire.
Sid the above, I may to provide the participation package to one agency only and just because they are good hard-working guys.


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Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 21:10
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
Not sufficient workflow Mar 29, 2015

EvaVer wrote:

... as I am not eligible, but as to reference letters - don't you have direct clients? I always use these as references, to avoid any competition issues.


Surely, we do have direct clientes but very often, especially in say my language pairs, they do not provide sufficient workflow.
I remember, last year I was thinking of one of my major direct clients, they are in the chemical industry. But I translate for them in 4 or 5 language pairs - automatically, that leaves me with small fractions of the "work experience" eligible for a specific EU tender.
Because it is not about a plain reference but about a reference where the client undersigns the amount of work the translator has provided to them.


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Silvestro De Falco  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:10
Italian to English
+ ...
Tender requirements Mar 29, 2015

Actually, I raised a related issue recently with the Italian Translators Association (AITI) to which I belong.
I mentioned that this process was time consuming and that, since time is always short, I felt I was missing out on the opportunity to expand my business in other areas.
So I asked my local representative to bring this matter to the attention of the national leadership so that they might get together with the trade associations representing agencies and the departments of the EU that put out these tenders from time to time.
The idea would be for translator associations to vouch for their members' qualification, based on documents in their possession, so that there is no need every time to spend hours and hours on end filling forms to produce evidence of one's professional qualifications, with the uncertainty that the agency might not win the contract.
IMO, it might be a good idea to test this concept with other translator associations Europe-wide, perhaps pointing out other concerns that other colleagues might have.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 22:10
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I would guess Mar 30, 2015

Peter Shortall wrote:
How will the EU know the invoices are genuine?


I suspect that they would have someone take a look at it to see if it looks genuine, that's all. I also guess that if your work should be of poor quality, and it turns out (upon investigation) that your invoices are bogus, that the fact that you committed fraud to get the job would weigh more heavily against you and give them more recourse for action against you.

If they can contact the end client to check, would many of our clients feel happy about that kind of information being disclosed? I suspect not.


I would redact sensitive information from such invoices, such as client identity. Do you think they'd expect to give the invoices with all private information intact?

I also have a problem with the reference letter requirement.


Can those things take the form of a "to whom it may concern" type of boilerplate letter in which the referencing client simply fills in some information on the letter (e.g. I hereby confirm that translator [__] has translated stuff for us since [__] and have done at least [__] number of words of [__] type of translation. Our experience with his/her translation quality has been [_0-10_].)?


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:10
Member
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Getting the message across to the EC Mar 30, 2015

Thank you all for your replies.

Inga, that's a good point about those of us who work in multiple language pairs. I believe it's a requirement for the EC's full-time in-house translators that they must be able to translate from at least two source languages, so it should come as no surprise to them that many freelancers do too. That said, they don't say that the 1500 standard pages have to have been translated recently, so a few years' experience should be enough to accumulate the required number of pages.

Silvestro, that sounds like a really good idea. It would save everyone - both the contracting authority and translators - a lot of time if we didn't have to keep on providing the same paperwork for each agency and each tender every year. That would encourage more of us to participate. As it is, I do feel that the current set-up tends to put many of us off and greatly restricts the pool of translators who are willing to do this work.

Samuel - while redacting details such as client identity from invoices sounds like a good idea from my point of view as a business owner, I'm not sure how the contracting authority would then be able to check whether invoices are genuine!

I suppose I will just go on doing what I do now - telling agencies the reasons why I will not be participating, in the hope that this information will eventually be fed back to the relevant EU institutions and perhaps they will decide to make the process less onerous. Meanwhile, I've just received another of those "would you like to participate?" emails in the last fifteen minutes! (sigh)


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Maria S. Loose, LL.M.  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 22:10
German to English
+ ...
invoices are needed Mar 31, 2015

to prove a translator's professional experience. They must show the language pair involved. The EU needs experienced translators who can prove the minimum amount of professional experience. This proof may also be submitted in the form of employment contracts or letters of reference. The documents must clearly show the minimum number of pages required or the minimum number of years of work experience required. This is a standard requirement for all calls for tenders for service contracts, i.e. also for service contracts for other kinds of services, e.g. medical services, IT services, etc. From my own experience as a EU official and project manager for EU calls for tenders, I can assure you that invoices are only used to check professional experience and are subject to very strict data protection requirements

Translators would be much better off if they applied directly as freelancers. All necessary information can be found on the websites of each European Institution. The information to be found is very detailled and guides you through the application process.

[Edited at 2015-03-31 05:52 GMT]


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Maria S. Loose, LL.M.  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 22:10
German to English
+ ...
Detailled information can be found at Mar 31, 2015

http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/translation/workwithus/calls/open/omnibus15/index_en.htm

But other calls for tenders are published on the websites of the European Parliament and the Translation Center for the Bodies of the European Union.

[Edited at 2015-03-31 05:50 GMT]


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 16:10
Member (2008)
French to English
EU tenders Mar 31, 2015

I have long since stopped participating in EC calls for tender, for the very reasons given above. Nonetheless, I get a certain amount of work which I believe results from agencies' bids on these tenders.

How does the EU expect that only those translators listed in the bid will be used? They are not employees of the agencies and are not under any contract to the agency. What happens if all the listed translators are busy? Do they drop the contract awards and go out for tender again? My guess is, probably not.


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Maria S. Loose, LL.M.  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 22:10
German to English
+ ...
@ John Fossey Mar 31, 2015

If freelance translators work for the EU via agencies they are considered to be subcontractors. When permitting the agency to present their CV to the EU they have to sign a declaration of intent. It's a declaration in which they declare that they intend to be a subcontractor of the agency in case the agency is sucessful. Of course the EU cannot force translators to do what they promised. That's why it signs framework contracts with multiple contractors. If the contractor ranked first is unavailable (= his subcontractors are unavailable) the EU will send a purchase order to the contractor ranked second and so on. There are always at least 8 framework contracts in place.

[Edited at 2015-03-31 14:57 GMT]


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mariealpilles  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:10
Member (2014)
English to French
+ ...
tender season Mar 31, 2015

I agree that the amount of paperwork required takes too much time for potential work. Nothing guarantees that you will actually get the job. I do not trust any of those agencies since they want everything from you and if they do not win the tender you never hear from them any more. So if they cannot be bothered to give me work for the rest of the year, why should I help them win the tender. So my policy is now to only send the paperwork back for those agencies which give me work during the year, and not those which just find my CV interesting. Along the same principles I do not bother to reply to those which ask for my CV and other information for their database. I refuse to fill in all the papers and tax forms for US agencies which just want to add you to their database for potential work, even make you take a test that you pass and still never materialises into a single job. I am fed up with wasting my time on such matters...

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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 16:10
Member (2008)
French to English
Not very efficient Mar 31, 2015

Maria S. Loose, LL.M. wrote:

If freelance translators work for the EU via agencies they are considered to be subcontractors. When permitting the agency to present their CV to the EU they have to sign a declaration of intent. It's a declaration in which they declare that they intend to be a subcontractor of the agency in case the agency is sucessful. Of course the EU cannot force translators to do what they promised. That's why it signs framework contracts with multiple contractors. If the contractor ranked first is unavailable (= his subcontractors are unavailable) the EU will send a purchase order to the contractor ranked second and so on. There are always at least 8 framework contracts in place.


So that means 8 sets of translators had to go through the documentation process so that 1 set of translators gets the work! There will always be 7 sets of translators that went through the process but didn't get the job.


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