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Not being paid because "I owe them money" for a project over a year ago? Seriously??
Thread poster: Prof Projex

Prof Projex  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:03
English to Chinese
+ ...
Oct 25, 2009

I did a tiny (and I mean tiny, 5% of the main project) bit of work for a Chinese translation company over a year ago, and which I was paid for via payment terms. Since then, the company has offered me more work, in which I recently accepted a small project.

After waiting 2 months to get paid (their payment terms), and being assured via email I would get paid for the project, I was told I owe them money and that they will not pay me. Apparently, the project I worked on for them over a year ago (again, that I barely had anything to do with but a small portion of translation) went defunct and they didn't get paid full contract price from whoever they were working for. They claim that since, at that time, they paid full price to the translators, and then did not get paid full price themselves for the complete project, that now the translators who worked on that project owe them money.

Thus, they have been offering me jobs recently while purposely failing to mention this supposed "money owed", leading me to believe I would get paid in full, while in actuality having no intention of paying me.

Is it just me, or is this just bad business? I feel completely and totally cheated, and yet they are sticking to their guns like it's the right thing to do. I've been exchanging emails with them for over a month trying to get them to pay me, at first starting nice and then threatening I would leave bad reviews, but they still claim I owe them money and refuse to pay. I've already reported them to a few lists I know of, like proz.com BB, WPPF, and left a negative review on a couple other translation sites. But is there anything else I can do? Especially for a Chinese company where, as far as I know, there is no official translators association I can report them to, nor is there a Better Business Bureau, and the amount is too little for a collecting agency to collect on. It's more the principal of the thing than the amount of money though. It just doesn't seem right. Anyone have any say on the situation?

[Edited at 2009-10-25 10:18 GMT]


 

Christina Bergmann
Germany
Local time: 12:03
English to German
+ ...
Matter of principle Oct 25, 2009

Bad business? Oh YES!

You don't owe them any money. They had to pay you the full charge for the one-year-old project.
If they don't get their client to pay THEM, it's none of YOUR business. It just shows that they are bad in negotiating.
In Germany, we would call that "Business expenses" meaning "tough luck for me if my client doesn't pay me for whatever reason but I have to pay my proofreader etc. and I need to do that from my savings/payments from other jobs."

You are right to call it a matter of principle. If they do it with small amounts of money they are likely to do it with larger amounts, too!
Show them that you are not a person to mess with, even if it's just for 5 dollar.

Good luck!


 

Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:03
Member
Dutch to English
+ ...
Tell them that this is what capitalism is all about Oct 25, 2009

If they can't take the risk, what are they doing on the market?

Absolutely shameful.


 

Prof Projex  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:03
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
ideas? Oct 25, 2009

Christina Heger wrote:

Show them that you are not a person to mess with, even if it's just for 5 dollar.



Any ideas how? The most I can think to do is leave negative feedback on translation portals, which I've done, plus send countless several page long emails and have live chats with them about how this just isn't right is and how absurd an excuse they've given not to pay such a ridiculously low amount of money. I mean, we're only talking about $50 here. Apparently they are not taking me seriously. What else can I do? Even if I don't get paid I want them to regret having cheated me [and fellow translators].


 

Charlie Bavington (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:03
French to English
What does Chinese law say? Oct 25, 2009

Prof Projex wrote:
They claim that since, at that time, they paid full price to the translators, and then did not get paid full price themselves for the complete project, that now the translators who worked on that project owe them money.

Is it just me, or is this just bad business? I feel completely and totally cheated, and yet they are sticking to their guns like it's the right thing to do.


I believe that in most (all?) western countries, all other things being equal, that would actually be unlawful, not just bad business, in the sense that under conventional agreements, the payment for a contract between you and the agency is not typically (although it can be) dependent on the payment for a contract between the agency and a third party.

However, if the agency did have legitimate cause to believe that you owed them money, it is not unheard of for contracts to state that set-off is possible.

But that is entirely from a "western" viewpoint - I can only suggest that you research the legal position in China. It could be, after all, that this is imply ignorance on the part of the angency owner, and if you refer to some legally authoritative text, it might carry more weight than talking about "bad business".


 

Paul Cohen  Identity Verified
Greenland
Local time: 08:03
German to English
+ ...
Threaten legal action Oct 25, 2009

Sometimes a letter from a lawyer can do wonders. I've experienced situations where the mere threat of taking legal action has resulted in prompt payment.

 

Prof Projex  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:03
English to Chinese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
a lawyer would cost more than the translation Oct 25, 2009

Paul Cohen wrote:
Sometimes a letter from a lawyer can do wonders. I've experienced situations where the mere threat of taking legal action has resulted in prompt payment.


I don't think they'd believe I'd hire a lawyer to get paid $50, as lawyer costs would surely be more. I know the amount is small, but like said, its the principle of the thing. Unless there's a lawyer out there willing to do little pro bono work for the little guys, I don't think I afford that route.


 

Christina Bergmann
Germany
Local time: 12:03
English to German
+ ...
Collecting agency Oct 25, 2009

In Germany/Europe there are companies, i.e. agencies you can ask to collect payment from clients.
Normally you don't have to pay them a single cent as they just add a processing fee to your unpaid invoice.
You get the money invoiced beforehand and they take the processing fee.

I don't know, however, whether this also works in China.


 

Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:03
Member (2004)
English to Italian
50 dollars? Oct 25, 2009

well, put it down to experience and forget this agency. Sure, it's a bad business practice, but I'm my opinion, there is no point in pursuing any action for such a small amount... just be happy that you didn't do a $2000 job for them instead...

 

Paul Cohen  Identity Verified
Greenland
Local time: 08:03
German to English
+ ...
Let them call your bluff Oct 25, 2009

Prof Projex wrote:
I don't think they'd believe I'd hire a lawyer to get paid $50, as lawyer costs would surely be more. I know the amount is small, but like said, its the principle of the thing.


It's hard to know what the agency would believe.

If they have pulled this stunt with you, then they have probably done the same thing with many other translators. They're hoping that everyone will simply accept the loss and move on.

You've told us that it's about the principle of the thing. I believe you! Why not tell the agency the same thing? Tell them that you are a man (woman?) of principle and that you won't rest until the matter is settled justly. Tell them that if they don't pay you by a certain date (give them a specific time frame), then you will be forced to turn this over to your lawyer. And send your message via registered mail, not via e-mail.

Will the agency believe you? Maybe. Will you actually spend a couple of hundred dollars to hire a lawyer? Who knows? Maybe you will get so irritated with their attitude that you will actually decide to make them sweat a bit in court. Maybe Chinese law allows you to sue them for your legal fees as well. The fact that they owe you such a trifling amount may actually motivate them to pay you and get you off their backs. Let the agency call your bluff and then decide what your next move will be.

You have nothing to lose by making it look like you are prepared to take this to the next level.


 

John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not the right thing to do Oct 25, 2009

Prof Projex wrote:

Is it just me, or is this just bad business? I feel completely and totally cheated, and yet they are sticking to their guns like it's the right thing to do.


It is not the right thing to do. In fact, if this concept was generalised then capitalism itself would be entirely unworkable.


 

Monika Elisabeth Sieger  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:03
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Legal point of view Oct 25, 2009

As a German/English lawyer I would recommend to go and see a solicitor. On the other hand the sum you want to claim is quite minor and the solicitor would cost even more. Even with a simple letter.
It is a moral question and until now I was lucky enough having been paid every single time.
We all cannot help you with the question on Chinese Law I am afraid.
But I only can recommend that you make negative commentaries on every single translator's forum you have access to and warn off all the other innocent translators from this company!

It is just the same thing as with the more and more reduced rates agencies are prepared to pay: Keep your head, your upper lip stiff and don't accept their way of dealing with people. We are no slaves who can be bought and sold at the owner's pleasure!


 

madak  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:03
Swedish to English
+ ...
$50 worth of experience Oct 25, 2009

Start with informing the agency that their contract with the client is totally separate from their contract with you. You fulfilled your contract with them and was therefore rightfully paid. Whatever happened between them and their end client has nothing whatsoever to do with you.

That said, you'll most likely have to write this down to experience. And count yourself lucky it was only $50.

Prof Projex wrote:

I don't think they'd believe I'd hire a lawyer to get paid $50, as lawyer costs would surely be more.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:03
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Forget about the $50, post an entry in the Blue Board Oct 25, 2009

Post a LWA of 1 in the Blue Board for this company in Proz so that others don't fall in the trap. This company is keeping your money as the relationship in the initial job was between you and the agency and not between you and the non-paying end client. It just looks to me that the agency does not want to pay and they will use any reason.

Just post the negative LWA in the Blue Board (with no comment, so that everyone understands but you are not sued for false accusations, even if they are true). Others then can know who they are dealing with.

It is appalling to see how a vast majority of major payment problems reported here in the fora are caused by Chinese "agencies" or "companies". I strongly recommend everyone from the Western world to be extra cautions with Chinese companies. It's sad but it is plain necessary.


 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:03
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Why do you suggest a rating of 1 without comment on the BB? Oct 25, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Post a LWA of 1 in the Blue Board for this company in Proz so that others don't fall in the trap.
...
Just post the negative LWA in the Blue Board (with no comment, so that everyone understands but you are not sued for false accusations, even if they are true). Others then can know who they are dealing with.


This is not the first time I read such a suggestion regarding the BB.
Why do people encourage others to leave no comment?
That makes absolutely no sense to me.
The LWA is a general assessment of ones Likelihood of Working Again (LWA), and it is a combination of all aspects of the work with the outsourcer. Leaving a 1 with no comment does not make it clear that they did not pay. People may leave a 1 even if they were paid, for example, if the PM was a complete jerk, or the work turned out to be a chaotic mess, or whatever (sometimes subjective) reasons. Non-payment is very serious, and not very subjective. Stating this fact (non-payment) is important, I think.

If the agency is refusing payment while there was neither quality nor deadline problem, according to the BB rules, the translator is allowed to post a comment about it. There is also an option to report no payment, and I would encourage people to use that as well, when non-payment is the case.
If the agency is recruiting here on ProZ, others deserve to know what is going on.
Perhaps they cheated others, too, and multiple non-payment complaints may lead to them being banned from ProZ.

Katalin


 
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