Serco keeps million dollar Language Line interpreter contract

Serco Citizen Services managing director Peter Welling

Serco Australia's citizen services division has kept its $1 million contract to provide interpretation services for a growing number of non-English speaking New Zealanders.

The Department of Internal Affairs awarded the contract to provide the Office of Ethnic Communities' Language Line service for one year, with up to two yearly extensions, it said in a statement. Serco has held the contract for the past seven years and beat out rivals when the service was put up for tender earlier this year.

"We understand and recognise the importance of these services to a wide range of people across New Zealand and are extremely pleased to continue that partnership following the open tender," Serco Citizen Services managing director Peter Welling said in an emailed statement. "We employ almost 200 people in New Zealand to provide the services with a wide range of skills across 44 languages who support the department's need for non-English speaking citizens every day."

The Language Line was set up in 2003 offering interpretation services for people seeking access to more than 100 agencies, such as central and local government departments, crown entities, non-government organisations, district health boards, schools and certain power companies. More than 500,000 calls have been made to the line, with the highest volume languages being Cantonese and Mandarin, Korean, Samoan, Tongan and Arabic.

In the 2015 financial year, 55,150 calls were made on the service, up from 32,308 in 2011. DIA's annual report shows $1.26 million was spent on the Language Line service in 2015, down from $1.32 million a year earlier.

In a statement, DIA said Serco had "met all requirements of its Service Level Agreement throughout the duration of its previous contracts" with the Office of Ethnic Communities, and that the new deal "ensures continuity of the high standard of service that Language Line provides".

Serco is better known in New Zealand as a private prison operator, running the newly-built Wiri facility south of Auckland, and managing the Mount Eden remand unit until the Crown stepped in last year. The global group runs outsourced public services around the world in numerous sectors, employing 122,000 people in 30 countries, including Australia's mainland and Christmas Island immigration detention centres to house asylum-seekers and illegal migrants arriving by boat and air.

The citizen services division, which retained the New Zealand Language Line contract, provides outsourcing services spanning customer interaction centres, direct marketing, loyalty and fulfilment programmes, training design and delivery, customer relationship management software solutions and consultancy services, its website says.


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There is no such thing as a non-English speaking New Zealander, just as there are no non-Japanese speaking Japanese or non-German speaking Germans. This is the kind of needles and thought control that Orwell warned against. It doesn't make any sense and tax payers should not be paying for this sort of garbage.

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Not "needles", "newspeak".

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It would be nice if we could accept that not all migrants have great English skills but that some will require assistance with communicating with government departments and health and medical providers especially when they first arrive. NZ is not a country that values our own languages so I can see why narrow minded people think a service like this is not necessary. We are rightly or wrongly taking immigrants at high levels proportionally and we need services to support a portion of them for whom English is still a challenge.

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