Work, Employment & Society



Original Articles

‘Portfolio Workers’: Autonomy and Control amongst Freelance Translators


Janet Fraser a1 and Michael Gold a2c1
a1 University of Westminster
a2 Royal Holloway College

Abstract

Recent literature has begun to disaggregate groups of the ‘self-employed without employees’ to examine in greater detail what determines their working conditions. This article continues this trend by presenting the findings of a survey of professional translators and discussing their status as ‘homeworkers’, ‘teleworkers’, and ‘portfolio workers’. It reveals that freelance translators enjoy higher levels of autonomy and control over their working conditions than other comparable self-employed groups. This is largely because the nature of their expertise and their relationship with clients create inelasticities in the supply of their skills. The more successful are then able to use their market position to exert substantial control over areas like pay and deadlines. In addition, the lack of a traditional career structure means that many translators have actively chosen freelance work and that even those who were originally forced into it would not now take an in-house job. The article concludes that labour market characteristics are a key factor in determining differences in working conditions between various groups of ‘portfolio workers‘.

(Accepted January 2000)


Correspondence:
c1 Corresponding author: School of Management, Royal Holloway College, University of London, Egham, Surrey, TW20 OEX