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Why Russian translators are low-paid: a case study Options
askmaxim
Posted: Sunday, November 8, 2009 5:09:58 PM

Rank: Member

Joined: 9/29/2009
Posts: 12
Location: Montenegro
Dear colleagues,

I would like to share my observations about the formation of prevailing translation rates in Russia as part of prevailing salary levels in general.

Disclaimer: this post contains my personal opinions, and I may not be able to support every statement with facts. But I don't think I must. This is a discussion forum, and if someone disagrees then please bring your own facts.

I collected some observations about two major businesses for this discussion - a worldwide Swedish furniture manufacturer/retailer (4 letters) and the 'golden arches' - the fast food leader.

In a word, both of the above appear to me to be more profitable in Russia than in many other countries, US and EU in particular. And, at the same time, both corporations pay their Russian employees less than their US and EU colleagues. (As for the latter, the 'big mac index' appears to support this observation, and it's not me who invented it.)

So, how does this relate to Russian translators?
Of course, it does - directly.
For the record, I never worked nor made a bid for any translation projects for either of the above corps.
But I am pretty much certain those translators who do the job work at quite low rates.

Yet I would like to keep the focus on the actual 'production personnel' (basically, cashiers and floor managers) of these companies to prove that the rate/salary disparity is nothing but an unfair conduct of these companies.

The Russian employees of these companies create more value than respective US and EU employees. That simple! If this were a cars business, that would have meant Russian cars were the best.

Back to translators, it is generally much harder to catch this income disparity, but, considered the above, it is obvious that the translators involved in the production (sales) process shall be paid more. This will, in part, simply do courtesy/right treatment to the customers.

Why, for instance, the Russian label on a deep-fried potato bag mentions the 'GDA' acronym without translation? I doubt that even upper managers of the Russian division can tell what that means.

This is just a tip of an iceberg. I can imagine plenty of businesses finding a 'gold mine' in Russia and not bothering about fair treatment. Well, do you know what can happen then?
Here is an example: someone didn't like PM Putin demanding foreign investors to give some cash to AutoVAZ. Well, have anyone been fair to its Russian employees?

By the way, yes, I have worked with translation customers who practise fair treatment.
Very much appreciate it, THANK YOU!

Maxim Buyakov
Jyrkkä Jätkä
Posted: Sunday, November 8, 2009 5:32:13 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/21/2009
Posts: 41,572
Neurons: 385,017
Location: Helsinki, Southern Finland Province, Finland
Then, how much would be appropriate?


In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.
askmaxim
Posted: Sunday, November 8, 2009 6:06:54 PM

Rank: Member

Joined: 9/29/2009
Posts: 12
Location: Montenegro
Jyrkkä Jätkä wrote:
Then, how much would be appropriate?


Well, I remember how much I paid to the Russian Consulate in Osaka, Japan, for a one-page translation of a car title ('shaken' in Japanese). I paid USD 50, and that was in 2003.

Now, that Russian Consulate practices quite a fair translation price - becuase that's a governmental organisation, and also because I happened to know by experience that was quite a fair price for such a translation in Japan, if not a discount.

Again, in this forum I do not claim that I can bring all supporting facts. Maybe someone can tell how much is a fair translation rate in US, EU, or in their consulates in Russia, for that matter.

My guess, that would be about the same USD 50 per page (which I assume to be about 250 words or 1800 characters). (Could it be even significantly higher?)

Now, I think these customers pay USD 30 at most to their translation service provider company in Russia. Again, it is up to other forum participants to support or correct this guess.

Speaking of the case-study 'production employees' (such as cashiers), I believe their salary in Russia is 30 to 50% less than their 'equally productive' colleagues in EU or US.
Here I got some facts.
Today I saw a poster at a Moscow McDonald's:
"Join the team. Earn 18000 rubles per month - based on 21 shifts, 8 hours each shift." That's 107 RUB per hour.
Today's RUB/USD is 29. That's USD 3.70 per hour. Ok, the big mac is cheaper in Russia (USD 2.50?) than in US (3.50?). But even after the 'big mac index' correction, the salary level in Russia would hardly reach USD 5.10 per hour. Meanwhile, in the US the minimum hourly rate is more than USD 6.00 per hour, I believe. (Would someone tell, please?)

Now, speaking of living expenses in Moscow, McDonald is one rare exception from the rule that most things cost more than in US (especially after the big mac indexing). Milk is about USD 1.00 per liter, for instance.

Therefore, a cashier in Russia creates more value, but earns less money.
Same with translators.



Maxim Buyakov
askmaxim
Posted: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 2:30:00 AM

Rank: Member

Joined: 9/29/2009
Posts: 12
Location: Montenegro
As of July 24, 2009 (2009 -07-24)[update], the federal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 per hour.

The fast fooder underpays Russians 50% in absolute figures, 30% after the big mac indexing.

And Moscow McDonald's crowds never end. No doubt, Russians create at least the same indexed value, and may even exceed US in absolute USD cash flow figures.

Maxim Buyakov
svetok
Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009 8:49:20 PM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 11/13/2009
Posts: 1
Neurons: 3
Location: United States
Maxim, have you heard of supply and demand concept? That is reviewed in college marketing courses in US. Basically, it says that the prices are ordered or set by supply and demand. If you set the prices too high, then there is not going to be enough demand. If production cost is low enough to allow profit, that price has to meet the demand. Same with wages. If you pay too low- you may not have anyone willing to work for you. If you pay too high, you will will have lots of people interested in the jobs your company offers-but why would you want to take from your profit and just give it away for no reason? especially, if that will cause you to be insolvent financially. The reason there is a minimum wage set in US is because there are enough people who are willing to work for less. A government in any country can set a minimum wage- but there are consequences- too high of a mimimum wage may mean fewer business-weaker economy, less taxes, which leads to higher unemployment, less jobs, which means that people are going to be willing to work for EVEN less money, not to say, that the standard of living will fall. Etc., etc.
askmaxim
Posted: Monday, November 23, 2009 1:48:05 PM

Rank: Member

Joined: 9/29/2009
Posts: 12
Location: Montenegro
Dear svetok,

Thank you for supporting this discussion. Your post is important as it demonstrates exactly the kind of misperception that needs to be discussed.

Let me remark that the law of supply and demand is a too simplistic method and was hardly observed in real life ever.

I am sure, 'marketing courses in US' teach, for instance, 'how to create demand', and 'how to manage supply'.

Basically, my point in this discussion has been, Russian translators (and general population alike) are simply not 'demanding'. Just look what goes on in this world. Just a week ago Paris burst in riots simply becuase people did not get 'free money'! I was thinking to bring an example of people in most prosperous countries fighting for their wealth, but the reality was quicker.

Let me also address your point about the minimum wage in USA. You wrote, 'there are enough people who are willing to work for less'. - And your point is...? That's exactly what we need in Russia! You then explain, how bad it is to earn guaranteed 7 dollars or more per hour. In a word, your explanation could be restated as 'inflation'. But, as far as I know, inflation has been low in USA (but it is high in Russia). More over, that's exactly why I brought the 'big mac index' into the discussion - it accounts for all factors, including inflation.

Finally, let me note that in order to speak squarely of 'supply and demand' as you suggested, we need to know how many words to translate per year are on the 'demand' side, and how many Russian translators make up the 'supply' pool. Can you bring up any figures? I doubt so. That's why I studied the cases in which one can watch 'the figures' with a naked eye - like the lines of customers at McDonald's or at IKEA. That's what I started with.

Russian translators: Demand better!


Maxim Buyakov
edintoronto
Posted: Friday, December 11, 2009 12:01:49 PM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 12/11/2009
Posts: 1
Neurons: 3
Location: Canada
The problem is in the lower living standards and salary levels in Russia compared to Western countries as well as with relatively low business activities between Russia and other countries. Many investors don't view Russia as a country with stable economy and politics.

In most cities the translators sort of agree on going rates and try to stick to them but because of insufficient translation work some of them and especially newbies would work for less although realizing they are compromising the trade as a whole i.e. what is called price dumping and they do it because they are forced - they have families to feed.

If all the translators agreed on one price and ALL of them stuck to it then the employers will be forced to comply. Even in this case the employers can turn to other countries with even lower living standards of former USSR where Russian is widely spoken and even official and it is not a hard thing to do in the era of Internet technologies widely available.

This is what happened here in Canada, many translators lost jobs and contracts because it is cheaper to have it done in Russia. I wouldn't work for less than 10c a word and there are some who charge a minimum of 15 or 20c per word, it depends on your experience, qualifications, area of specialization and certificates. I can't work for less than 10c/word because otherwise an office support job is a much more stable option.
askmaxim
Posted: Saturday, December 12, 2009 7:33:37 AM

Rank: Member

Joined: 9/29/2009
Posts: 12
Location: Montenegro
edintoronto wrote:
The problem is in the lower living standards and salary levels in Russia compared to Western countries ...


Let me just briefly remark: The living standards vary greatly in Russia.

On the one side of the disparity are owners of grocery kiosks who do apparently much better than their Western counterparts, in the absolute USD equivalent.

On the other side are the rocket scientists (I was a rocket science student, by the way). They are people who totally lack any dignity and get miserable income, but are genii otherwise.

Translators are somewhere in between.

So, it's just the matter of self-definition.

Maxim Buyakov
bkytransl
Posted: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 12:39:34 PM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 12/16/2009
Posts: 1
Neurons: 3
Location: Germany
It is in general the same everywhere, translators are paid worse and worse all the time. I am currently already happy when I have work at all (especially since the beginning of the crisis), and most times it is above all into English or into French, not even into my mother language German.

I am already happy when I get orders with payment above 5 Euro Cents per source word. Really, I already thought about going to North Africa, South America or maybe even to the Ukraine where my ancestors lived for more than 200 years as German farmers in order to be able to work for less money from there and with lower living costs.

There should rules by law against underpayment of people in general, especially translators. The remuneration of translators often comes very near to what I would call modern times slavery. No wonder that most of the freelance translators I know either have no family or a partner with a very good job. There are hardly to see freelance translators who earn the entire family income from their translation activities alone.
from.russia
Posted: Sunday, March 21, 2010 10:25:43 AM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 2/16/2010
Posts: 44
Location: Russia, a big city ))
Hi, it is a burning issue for me, so thanx for
having risen it here )))

Yes, I'm Russian (with some German mixture), and yes I am a translator/interpreter
as well.

I do agree with the poster askmaxim, but for one thing;

the poster does not carry his ideas any futher and his ramblings freeze at
the statment of self-identification importance.

I'd like to continue the point and tell all others here that it is a very
importatbt social problem that requires our serious fight for our rights.

This year, for example, is officially announced to be the year of teacher in Russia.

Yet do teachers start having better life conditions? Not at all,
as they do not fight for their rights.

I think the same's with translators...

I am a jobless creature at the moment, in spite of having
university degree and work experience... So, yes, I am a beggar...



we can ride a stormy weather if we all get out and try (c).
BOBAH
Posted: Friday, August 27, 2010 11:41:48 AM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 8/27/2010
Posts: 1
Neurons: 3
Location: United States
askmaxim did not completely opened the topic? Why not to give some specific numbers? How much russian translators are getting paid comparing to their EU, US colleagues?
There are many benchmarking websites:
PayScale.com
Glassdoor.com
etc....
plz give us the figures
askmaxim
Posted: Friday, August 27, 2010 2:02:19 PM

Rank: Member

Joined: 9/29/2009
Posts: 12
Location: Montenegro
BOBAH wrote:
askmaxim did not completely opened the topic? Why not to give some specific numbers? How much russian translators are getting paid comparing to their EU, US colleagues?
There are many benchmarking websites:
PayScale.com
Glassdoor.com
etc....
plz give us the figures


Thank you for still supporting this topic.
At the time I started it I was outraged by some proz dot com translation job offers asking to work for USD 0.03 per word - and yet receiving applicants' quotes.
Proz since then restricted posters from indicating rates.
Now, Russian is one of most difficult languages. No comparison to the English-French pair, for instance. And products are sold in Russia at the highest premium in the world. Which means both of the following: (i) translation as part of the business process could benefit from such high premiums, and (ii) life in Russia is expensive, therefore salaries/rates should be high.
Now, what I see on the other side is English translators seem to boycott rates below USD 0.08 and even USD 0.10. And that's while they have such performance boosters as speech to text and, perhaps, quite helpful machine translators (robots at work!!). Malaysian translators stick to the USD 0.12 rate! And they ain't rocket scientists unlike myself.
I mean, I totally support these guys, and we Russians should learn from these fellows how to respect ourselves.

Maxim Buyakov
nick
Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2010 5:35:18 PM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 3/6/2009
Posts: 38
Neurons: 98
I do not think any comparisons between Russia and the Western countries are valid or even make sense. Western economies are generally capitalistic in a sense of the bottom-up economy -- the most of the wealth is created at the bottom and then is consolidated all the way up to the national budget. The Russian economy works in the opposite direction. Most of the country real wealth is created on the national level from export of oil and other natural resources and then is distributed around to the very unproductive population. Top level bureaucrats who are close to the well are extremely wealthy, as the distance between the well and the recipient increases the income drops dramatically. That is basically the Russian economy in a nutshell. Talking about supply and demand or other laws of the free market in those conditions does not make much sense. Russian translators are paid just enough to support themselves and are not likely to command higher rates any time soon. Sorry
askmaxim
Posted: Monday, August 30, 2010 5:42:07 AM

Rank: Member

Joined: 9/29/2009
Posts: 12
Location: Montenegro
Thank you, Nick, for sharing interesting ideas.

Yeah, oil is a big disadvantage to Russia. This paradox is voiced more and more often.

Yet, I have something to reply to your words (bold is mine):

nick wrote:
The Russian economy works in the opposite direction. Most of the country real wealth is created on the national level from export of oil and other natural resources and then is distributed around to the very unproductive population.


1. I just brought examples above that Russians are more productive than their EU and US counterparts standing at a counter. (There are slow cashiers in Russia, too, but let's say we have a tie here.)

2. Russian translators are quite a match in productiveness to their EU and US counterparts, in my experience. (I managed various projects including those not involving the Russian language.)

3. I observed many totally unproductive US employees.
- In USA, I worked nextdoor to a Personal Assistant to a Senior VP in a prominent company. That PA did not know how to print an MS document.
- Once I was looking for a clerk in a company and asked someone where that clerk was located. The reply was: go <there and there>, and you will see a lady playing "solitaire". I went there and sure enough found a lady doing just that. It's still a mystery for me what was her job description.

4. I really don't know what UK produces. USA makes great cars, aircraft, spacecraft etc., but for the UK I really don't know anything. Except for the financial services, perhaps, but that is highly concentrated at the top and is distributed fromtop to bottom. I am trying to make parallel to the Russian oil wealth. Well, I do suspect more fair distribution mechanisms in UK than in Russia, and that echoes to every citizen, including translators. Basically, it's the law system that keeps things fair in the West.

5. You did not bring any examples in support of your verdict.

Seems, we deal with things outside the Economy!
It's not unproductive, it's undemanding.

Russian translators, demand better!

Maxim Buyakov
SLRU
Posted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 11:02:13 PM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 8/21/2010
Posts: 1
Neurons: 3
Location: United States
Nick, I didn't quite understand your attempt at economic theory with that bottom-up/down example, but to paint a whole nation as "very unproductive" or to claim that the rules of society don't apply in Russia is pretty arrogant. You talk like Russia doesn't produce anything except resource exports, which is simply not true. It may not export much beyond resources, but it still produces goods for internal consumption unlike the West that outsourced everything to China. Yes the gap between rich and poor is wide, but so it is in the U.S. Here's a little statistics for you:

• 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
• 61 percent of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
• 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
(taken from the businessinsider.com)

So yeah, you can say the wealth is created at the bottom and consolidated all the way up - all the way up to the pockets of the rich.



Ramkes
Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 1:53:01 AM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 9/17/2010
Posts: 1
Neurons: 3
Location: India
Hello,


Thanks for sharing this topic.I do agree with askmaxim is right oil is big problem for russia. The problem is in the lower living standards and salary levels in Russia compared to Western countries. In all reply I am not getting the exact answer Why Russian translators are low-paid: a case study.
ngtranslator
Posted: Saturday, July 30, 2011 9:38:04 AM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 7/30/2011
Posts: 1
Neurons: 3
Location: United States, NH
If we are going to entertain economic theories in explaining the costs of Russian translation or interpreting services, we then have to consider supply and demand. With the recent waves of Russian immigration to the United States in the spanning pre world war 1 and post soviet union, we have found communities in NYC, Chicago, Boston flourish with a new found diversity, with many being first at most second generation Russian Americans - now there is a HIGH DEMAND for Russian Translators and Interpreters, with a very minute supply of certified English Russian interpreters ... hmmmm think OIL here guys... Russian Translation Services should be at a premium right now ... 70 to 80 dollars per page limited to 400 words... whats your take ?
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