Punitive

So back in January I translated part of an annual report. Job done, job paid – onto the next job, or so I thought until March. My translation agency client tells me that I made an error and that error is going to cost me over EUR 1000 (more than the job was worth). What error did I make? I (allegedly) typed EUR 1.6 billion instead of EUR 1.5 billion. My client says the error wasn’t picked up until after their client had printed the report, incurring costs of over EUR 3000 of which my share would be over EUR 1000. So a little investigation shows that the way they use the software disables the automatic checking of numbers, their proof-reader didn’t pick it up and the end client didn’t pick it up. They have provided no proof that the report was reprinted, no proof that they incurred damages (despite asking me if I had liability insurance – which I don’t but I’m sure they do) and no proof that I typed the wrong number.
So here’s the thing: the power relationships in this business relationship push the responsibility onto the translator. I pointed out the failures in their system but they are not interested. Were they satisfied with the work I did? Yes, apart from this one number. Did they know they had disabled the automatic number checking in the software? No, but if I did it’s my responsibility to change the setting. So the agency takes its cut of the fee but does not bear the responsibility for the failure of the systems it puts in place – or doesn’t put in place. It’s apparently the translator’s job to know the software better than the agency and ANY mistake is the fault of the translator. I have no contract with their client – my client accepted the work I did and paid for it.
I refused and since the amount of unpaid invoices from this client is around EUR 350, I deployed my BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) and said we should just break off the business relationship at this point – which would be a real shame over one (allegedly) incorrectly typed digit. They threw their hands in the air – how dare I not agree to pay the EUR 1000?
Well, dear client, you apparently want to work with me more than I want to work with you. Your rates are low and I don’t like your attitude. Maybe you should only work with translators who are desperate to work with people like you…

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