Yesterday I received an email from the representative of the Junior Staff Union at one of the universities. She told me they were putting together a list of translators and editors willing to offer their services to junior staff members at reduced rates, and asked whether I would like to be included in this list.
I replied that while I understand the need of the junior staff to find inexpensive services, I believe it would be better for their union to fight for improved conditions, including budgets to use for paying translators. I explained that many translators earn low wages for their work, and so any union should show some consideration for other professionals aiming to improve their status and conditions.
I gave the union representative my usual prices, saying that if these are considered reasonable, I will be happy to be included on the list.
Another point the union representative raised, which I did not address in my reply, is worth explaining here for the benefit of other freelancers. She said there would be a large volume of work from the junior staff members, making it worthwhile for both parties. This is the common misconception known as the "quantity discount".
When someone is selling physical products, if a customer buys a large quantity of products, it can be worthwhile to give a discount. The seller needs to clear stock to make room for new stock, and can, in theory, sell one item or hundreds of items with the same investment of time.
For professionals providing services, such as translators, there is usually no benefit in providing a quantity discount for large quantities of work. There is only a certain amount of work that can be done in an hour, and working at a lower rate means it takes longer to earn what the translator expected to earn. The only case when it is worth taking on work at a reduced rate is when the translator does not expect to get enough work at the normal rate.
Another thing to consider is that lowering rates creates a precedent. When customers get used to a reduced rate, this makes it difficult for all translators to charge their normal rates. In order to improve the status of the translation profession and the rates customers expect to pay, translators should consistently charge their normal rates, and use discounts only on rare, special occasions, making it clear that this is a reduced rate. I think providing reduced rates for a whole sector of customers, even a sector whose financial situation might justify this, sends the message that translators are willing and happy to work for less than they deserve.