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Department of Linguistics

T&I Labour Market in Australia

By Scheherazade Rogers

Introduction 

The market for translators and interpreters in Australia has grown considerably during the past five years.  This is due to two main factors: Australia’s diverse multicultural society and the development of strong trading relationships with countries all over the world.  There are many situations in which doctors, judges, lawyers, teachers and business professionals find themselves unable to communicate with clients due to cultural and language barriers. 

The purpose of this research project is to investigate employment, training, qualifications, job prospects, rates and working conditions for interpreters and translators in Australia.  The greatest demand for interpreters is in community interpreting for various government bodies.  Interpreters are also required for business negotiations and conferences, but these assignments are not as frequent.  Translators also work in the public sector but their main employers are private organisations and individuals, and they are no longer restricted to the local market as the internet provides access to jobs worldwide.

Practitioners in Australia come from a diverse range of backgrounds.  Some have studied languages at tertiary institutions, while others have grown up in bilingual households.  Most practitioners specialise in either translation or interpreting, although some do engage in both.

Methodology 

Official government statistics on translation and interpreting were consulted, especially for information on growth in the profession in recent years.  Reports and inquiries initiated by The Australian Institute of Translators and Interpreters (AUSIT) were also used to investigate statistics on wages and working conditions from first hand experiences of practitioners.  The annual report from the Community Relations Commission of New South Wales provides detailed information about their services and the volume of their language-specific translation and interpreting assignments, and this information has been included in the Appendices.  I subscribed to job search websites and major newspapers nationally to receive daily updates of advertised positions for translators and interpreters over a two month period (October-November 2006), while collecting articles in print media, which detailed the working lives of individual practitioners working in Australia.  Finally, I also consulted websites of freelance translators to investigate their rates and contacted practising professionals to gain information not readily available to the general public. 

Employment 

There are few permanent or full-time translating and interpreting opportunities in Australia.  Usually, both interpreters and translators work part-time or as contractors, individuals, as small businesses or are engaged through a larger agency or directly by the client.  Many work through a combination of these.   

Interpreting work is usually part-time, contracted or on a casual basis. Hospitals, banks, tourist agencies, government departments and private interpreting and translating firms usually employ interpreters, who can be called to assignments concerned with personal and domestic situations, workshops and seminars, police investigations, law, health, education, housing, insurance matters, international conferences, business negotiations and licence testing, as well as individual or client-group interviews.  

The primary employers of interpreters in Australia are government departments, especially those concerned with education, immigration, social security, legal issues and law enforcement. Generally, community interpreters register with the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS), which is run by the Australian Government through the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.  It exclusively employs interpreters who are cleared by Federal Police and who are insured for professional indemnity, public liability and workers compensation.  More than 1,500 interpreters in over 100 languages and dialects are contracted on the basis of their accreditation/recognition, availability and location. 

With the exception of telephone interpreting, interpreters are restricted to places they can physically attend, although the Community Relations Commission is currently planning to offer video conferencing in rural areas to improve the accessibility of interpreting services.  At the moment, the languages in highest demand for telephone interpreting are Arabic, Bosnian, Cantonese, Croatian, Dari, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Khmer, Mandarin, Persian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Somali, Turkish and Vietnamese. There is also an increasing demand for interpreters of new and emerging languages from Africa, especially Sudanese Arabic.  As of October 2006, TIS was advertising positions for interpreters of Cantonese, Greek, Hindi, Korean, Indonesian, Macedonian, Mandarin, Somali, Tagalog (Filipino) and Thai. Over 20% of interpreting assignments for government departments are completed by phone.

The Interpreter and Transcultural Services at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital cater for around seventy-three languages, and employ part-time interpreters for high demand languages like Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Italian, Mandarin and Macedonian.  Interpreters in this capacity require NAATI accreditation at the Professional level and have a distinct advantage if they possess a thorough knowledge of medical terminology and the ways in which hospitals work.
Employment prospects for interpreters depend on the market demand for languages they speak.  Most work in Australia is community oriented, and opportunities tend to be limited to those languages with a large number of migrants who are unable to speak English.  High demand in the past for Greek and Italian is starting to fall, while demand for languages such as Vietnamese and Arabic is increasing along with those migrant populations. 

Most translation work in Australia comes directly from clients such as consulates and private corporations.  Australian government departments also require a variety of documents to be translated into several languages for migrants. Translators also often work for individuals, translating personal documents such as licences, birth and marriage certificates, qualifications, multilingual pamphlets and books.  Legal firms regularly require translations of patents and contracts, and international businesses are also a common source of a variety of translation work.  There is also a stable demand for translations of technical and other more complex materials.  Those practitioners with another area of expertise, such as engineering or medicine, are able to specialise in these fields and command higher rates. 

Over the period October to November 2006, the trends in advertised interpreting and translating positions in print media included Mandarin and Cantonese interpreters in healthcare environments and business negotiations, as well as Chinese and Japanese translators for technical manuals and software localisation.  Often jobs such as these require skills beyond the act of translating.  Employees might also need to edit materials translated by third parties, establish and maintain bi-lingual terminology and glossaries, and work well in a team environment.  Translators are usually expected to handle documents in electronic form, and written translations are now quite rare.  There is a high demand for specialised areas such as finance, law, engineering and medicine.  Practitioners with Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools are usually given preference in team projects where consistency is vital, and there is a demand for translators who are able to localise websites and work in HTML.

The advent of the Internet has meant that translators in Australia are no longer restricted to the local market.  They can approach Australian and overseas agencies with their curriculum vitae and sign up as a contractor.  Because Australia is in a different time zone, many North American and European agencies allocate emergency jobs to Australian practitioners.  Translators can also approach consulates, embassies and companies directly, or work as in-house employees for an agency.  The table shows the main industries in which translators and interpreters are currently employed:1 

Main Industries Graph 

According to AUSIT, it can take an average of two or three years to become established as a professional translator or interpreter.  This depends, of course, on the practitioner’s professionalism and their marketing strategies.  Word of mouth has proven to be an effective method for finding work if a freelance interpreter lives in an area where there is a high concentration of speakers of their LOTE.2  Members of AUSIT can also choose to be listed in that organisation’s directory for potential employers and also be part of their collective advertising in the Yellow Pages phonebook. 

National Authority for the Accreditation of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) 

NAATI is owned by the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments and its accreditation is the official market standard for employment as a translator or interpreter in Australia.  The different levels of accreditation are Paraprofessional Translator, Paraprofessional Interpreter, Translator, Interpreter, Advanced Translator, Conference Interpreter, Advanced Translator and Conference Interpreter (Senior).3  For translators, accreditation can be in one direction or both, while interpreters need to be able to interpret in two directions.  Examinations are held once annually or upon request for a higher fee, and the failure rate for these examinations is high.  For the higher levels, accreditation can also be given based on an assessment of overseas qualifications.  With NAATI accreditation, interpreters and translators can work anywhere in Australia.

Recognition is granted only for languages which NAATI does not test.  There is no specified level of proficiency, but the award of Recognition is an acknowledgement that the candidate has had recent and regular experience as a translator or interpreter.  From September 2006, NAATI Recognition now also shows that the practitioner is proficient in English and has completed some basic training.   

Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators Inc. (AUSIT) 

Founded in 1987, AUSIT is the only national professional association of practising translators and interpreters in Australia.  It has around 762 members working with over seventy languages.4 According to estimates, their membership comprises about one quarter of practising translators and interpreters nationally.  The aim of this association is to promote professionalism, and all members are required to abide by its Code of Ethics and undertake professional development activities.  AUSIT is also responsible for providing information on the profession to the government, businesses and the general public. 

Training and Professional Development 

It is not compulsory to undertake any specific training to become an interpreter or translator in Australia.  However, some universities and TAFE colleges offer language-specific courses to train aspiring translators and interpreters and prepare them for the NAATI examination.  These range from diplomas to postgraduate degrees. NAATI also runs optional workshops before the annual examination. 

While AUSIT membership requires continuous professional development, there is no financial reward or recognition for additional training, qualifications or experience in the employment market.  The Community Relations Commission in NSW provides specialist legal training for its court LOTE interpreters and NABS provides nine hours of training for AUSLAN interpreters with an incentive payment of $500 upon completion.  However, on the whole, few employers offer opportunities for professional development.   

Job Prospects 

There has been considerable growth in the translating and interpreting profession during the last five years.  Figures from the 2001 census show that there were 3045 professionally qualified translators and interpreters practising in Australia.  At that stage, 89% of interpreters and 82% of translators earned between $8,300 and $78,000 per annum and less than 1% of interpreters and translators earned more than $80,000.  Between 2001 and 2006, employment in translation and interpreting rose strongly to 5600 practicing professionals.5  However, there is also a high unemployment rate among accredited practitioners. 

Earnings 

Community Interpreters 
Rates for community interpreters have decreased over the past decade.  The typical fee for a 90 minute assignment is $58 for a paraprofessional community interpreter and $60 for a professional.6  This has been calculated to amount to a salary of $22,108 before tax, which is considerably less than the federal minimum wage of $24,388.7  Some agencies pay less than the minimum fee of $60 and do not contribute to superannuation. This places the gross annual salary at just $20,283.  South Australian Attorney-General’s agency, the Interpreting and Translating Centre, pays only $42.93 per two-hour booking.8 
This table shows actual fees paid by large agencies for LOTE interpreters, as at March 2005.9 

Type of Agency

Date of Last Increase

Minimum Assignment Fee (90 minutes)*

Hourly Rate Thereafter*

Superannuation Paid by Agency?

Federal Government

1999/2000

$60

$25

YES

Semi-Governmental

August, 2003

$57

$25

NO

Private - NSW

July, 2002
January, 2003
January, 2004

$84
$75
$60

$38
$30
$20

NO
NO
NO

Private - VIC

April, 2003

$55

$25

NO

*Fees quoted do not include GST. 
 
 These are fees paid by the National AUSLAN Interpreter Booking and Payment Service (NABS) to interpreters for the deaf. 

Level

Fee for 1.5 hour assignment within 100km

Fee for 2 hour assignment within 200km

Professional

$124

$162

Paraprofessional

$109

$134


This booking service is solely for private medical and health consultations.  The standard booking time is 1.5 hours, while two hour assignments are only provided in exceptional circumstances.  In this case, two interpreters can sometimes share the workload.  Parking fees are compensated for AUSLAN interpreters contracted by NABS. 

For longer, more specialised assignments such as court appearances, one New South Wales agency pays $90 for half a day and $150 for a full day.  Another agency in the same state has the following fee schedule: 

Duration

Professional

Paraprofessional

Half day

$135

$125

Full day

$178

$165


Half day in court: 10:00am to 1:00pm or 1:00pm to 4:00pm
Full day in court: 10:00am to 4:00pm
The half day booking does not include a travel allowance. 
Telephone interpreters are paid $5 or $10 for an assignment of fifteen minutes and $5 for each additional fifteen-minute block, twenty-four hours a day. 

Freelance Interpreters 
Depending on the nature of the job, freelance interpreters charge between $45 and $100+ per hour, or $250 to $700+ per day.  For short jobs, the minimum fee usually includes an additional $40 to $60 for travel time.  Rests and meal breaks need to be negotiated. 

Translators 
Rates for translation vary widely, depending on the nature of the text and the type of script required (e.g. Asian fonts usually attract a higher fee).  The rate per word ranges between $0.16 to $3.00+ and translations are usually either priced per word or per 100 or 1000 words of the target language.  A typical Professional-level translator earns between $25 and $45 per 100 words, with a normal workflow of 150-200 words per hour.  The ITC in South Australia pays $21 per 100 words.  Documents of less than 200 or 300 words usually carry a minimum charge, and proofreading, desktop publishing, HTML encoding and graphics modification are usually billed by the hour.

For a “standard” text, i.e. extracts, summaries, certificates and non-technical material, one freelance Chinese <-> English translator in Canberra charges $25.90 for the first 100 words and $17.60 for every 100 words thereafter.  For “complex” texts, i.e. scientific, legal or medical texts, he charges $36.30 for the first 100 words and $22.80 for subsequent blocks of 100 words.10 

Working Conditions 

Conditions for LOTE11 interpreters in Australia have been deteriorating over the past decade, particularly with regards to public-sector jobs.  Almost all work for community interpreters is organised through government bodies, which are large and powerful institutions.  This has proven to be an obstacle for interpreters when trying to negotiate for better wages and conditions.  Interpreters generally sign a contract with an agency or government department requiring their service, and can then accept or decline jobs as they are offered. 

Fees are set for the duration of an assignment, and do not take into account experience, education, additional services, special skills or demand for their language.  Also, in many contracts, there is little or no reimbursement for travel, as well as poor compensation for the late cancellation of assignments.  According to some long-standing members of AUSIT, these poor conditions are due to an “oversupply” of interpreters.12  While the government actively encourages practitioners to gain NAATI accreditation,13 the public-sector bodies which employ them do not always offer their assignments to Professional Level interpreters.  Instead, Paraprofessionals and even unaccredited “Level Zero” bilinguals are engaged if the need arises.  This “oversupply” means that the public sector has been able to keep wages low.  The entire panel of practicing interpreters in one particular large public-sector employer has an annual income of just $2000 from their interpreting work.14 According to AUSIT calculations, an interpreter spends around $5,400 per year just acquiring necessary services and equipment, including accounting, insurances, telephones, IT, stationery and research requirements.15  This imbalance has led to many practitioners seeking secondary sources of income or abandoning the profession altogether. 

Professional indemnity insurance is not a prerequisite for translators and interpreters, but AUSIT recommends it for areas in which practitioners might be sued in case of error or misunderstanding.  Some agencies require insurance and ask practitioners to contribute to the cost, but often the responsibility falls on the practitioner.  AUSLAN interpreters contracted by the National AUSLAN Interpreter Booking and Payment Service (NABS) are covered for professional indemnity and public liability insurance.   

Conclusion 

The market for translators and interpreters covering a wide variety of languages in Australia has grown considerably over the last decade.  The greatest volume of interpreting work is in the public sector, but rates and work conditions are often more favourable in business settings.  AUSIT has conducted several inquiries into working conditions for practising translators and interpreters in Australia, and put forward propositions and targets for government employers in order to curb the growing number of community interpreters abandoning the profession and make employers come to see translating and interpreting as the highly skilled profession that it is.

Bibliography 

Adams, David.  “Found in Translation.” Sydney Morning Herald, 1st February, 2006. 
AUSIT. Inquiry into Independent Contractors and Labour Hire Arrangements: Submission to the Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Workforce Participation.  11 March, 2005. 
AUSIT Website.  Frequently Asked Questions.  Accessed 20 September, 2006. http://www.ausit.org/eng/showpage.php3?id=831 

CareerOne.  Career Profile: Translator. Accessed 11 October, 2006.
http://www.careerone.com.au/jobs/job-search/pid/1982 

Community Relations Commission, New South Wales.  Annual Report 2004-2005. Accessed 8 October, 2006.
http://www.crc.nsw.gov.au/publications/annrep0405/index.htm 

MyCareer Employment News.  Found in Translation.  1 February, 2006. 
National Pay and Work Conditions Review Subcommittee of AUSIT.  Report Prepared for National Annual General Meeting.  October, 2003. 
Victorian Office of Multicultural Affairs. Interpreting and Translating Resource Guide. 

Gredley, Matt. Rates for Translation.  Accessed 10 September, 2006.  http://members.ozemail.com.au/~mattgred/rates.html 

Appendices 

Languages available for NAATI recognition:16 

Interpreting Assignments Performed by the Community Relations Commission, 2004–05.17 

Translation Assignments Performed by the Community Relations Commission, 2004–0518 

Useful Resources 

AUSIT’s Frequently Asked Questions 
http://www.ausit.org/eng/showpage.php3?id=831 

Australian Government JobSearch Website: Interpreters and Translators
http://jobsearch.gov.au/joboutlook/default.aspx?PageId=AscoDesc&ASCOCode=2525 

Australian Institute for Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT)
www.ausit.org 

Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association
www.aslia.com.au 

Community Relations Commission, New South Wales
http://www.crc.nsw.gov.au/ 

Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA)
www.immi.gov.au 

Matt Gredley’s Translation Resources.  
http://members.ozemail.com.au/~mattgred/resources.html 

National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)
www.naati.com.au 

TIS National
www.immi.gov.au/tis 

Victorian Office of Multicultural Affairs (VOMA)
www.voma.vic.gov.au 

Ozolins, Uldis.  Interpreting and Translating in Australia: Current Issues and International Comparisons.  Melbourne: Language Australia, National Languages and
Literacy Institute of Australia. 1998.

1 Australian Government Jobsearch Website.  Accessed 11 October, 2006. http://jobsearch.gov.au/joboutlook/default.aspx?PageId=AscoDesc&ASCOCode=2525
See this site for more translator and interpreter statistics.
2 LOTE: Language Other Than English.
3 See http://www.naati.com.au/at-accreditation-levels.html for more detailed information about levels of accreditation.
4 This figure was accurate at March 11, 2005.  AUSIT Inquiry, 5.
5 Australian Government Jobsearch Website. Accessed 11 October, 2006. http://jobsearch.gov.au/joboutlook/default.aspx?PageId=AscoDesc&ASCOCode=2525

6 AUSIT Inquiry, 11.
7 As of March, 2005.
8 National Pay and Work Conditions Subcommittee of AUSIT Report, October 2003, 5.
9 AUSIT Inquiry, 18.
10 Matt Gredley, Translation Rates, Accessed 9 October, 2006. http://members.ozemail.com.au/~mattgred/rates.html.
11 Languages Other Than English.
12 AUSIT Inquiry, 9.
13 Immigration points are awarded for possessing this qualification.
14 AUSIT Inquiry,
15 AUSIT Inquiry, 25.
16 http://www.naati.com.au/at-recognition.html
17 Community Relations Commission, New South Wales.  Annual Report 2004-2005. Accessed 8 October, 2006. http://www.crc.nsw.gov.au/publications/annrep0405/index.htm, 136.
18 Ibid, 138.

 

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