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In what way can hiring of external freelance reporting agencies/freelance reporters be a solution for parliamentary reporting offices to better cope with work peaks?

workshop lead by Ms. Patti Calabro

Prague, 30th September 2012

Introduction by Ms. Patti Calabro

The program of the day is changed. There will be a specific format with 12 minute segments. I do not wish to hurt anyone’s feelings, but we will have a time clock. When the stopwatch announces, whether you are midsentence or complete, it will be time to leave the stage. That applies to me as well, so I will be the first to go perhaps. There is a schedule of who will present first. If the first twelve minutes comes close to an end, the next speaker must be prepared with whatever item they plan to show or discuss and come to the side of the stage to keep this moving along.

Remarks of Fabrizio Verruso (presented by Ms. Patti Calabro)

Traditionally parliaments, as other businesses, are staffed with competent and well trained individuals. Shorthand writers, steno typists and re-speakers are recruited for delivering the transcripts of parliamentary speeches.

In Fabrizio’s environment the reporting department works with the general-secretariat, the accounting and personal departments. To refresh your memories: Fabrizio is from Palermo, Sicily.

Evaluation of applicants starts with determining language skill, commitment to the purpose of the department and compatibility with future co-workers. Finally an assessment of shorthand skill, if applicable. Nowadays at least two reasons support hiring extra or freelance reporters. It is less expensive to utilize freelancers for plenary sessions. Training costs are minimal or non-existent because the vender supplies trained staff.

Fabrizio will participate in the future. At that time he will have an opportunity to address this subject again with the participants, break out and than have your ideas presented to the group.

Recently Fabrizio conducted a brief survey on practises in this matter. For our Finish and German colleagues: you may wish to comment on this information when you all break into your sessions later on.

In the Finnish Parliament the reporting activities are carried out by permanent staff consisting of full-time and part-time employees. Occasionally some external reporters or typists are hired on an hourly basis, mostly to fill in for permanent staff in case of holidays, sick leave and so on. Basically when there is a work peak everyone works longer days and the hours are compensated later. Since full-time reporters work every day in any case, they are compensated with overtime salary or extra holiday for the hours that exceed the normal weekly office hours.

At the German Bundestag external freelance reporters are normally recruited for the verbatim reporting of meetings of the committees of inquiry. These meetings are recorded stenographically in full and take place in parallel to plenary sittings, during which all of the parliamentary shorthand reporters are deployed to draw up the minutes of plenary proceedings. There, since the shorthand writers service does not have enough employees to cope with its peak work loads in sitting weeks, it is necessary to call on the services of external personal, both reporters and assistants. They are contracted to work alongside the divisions in house staff. Like in Germany, in some parliaments the internal staff takes care of the training of freelancers who have scientific qualifications and excellent skills in shorthand. But they may have no parliamentary reporting experience. In this case cooperation will be realized not only after the reporting activity, but before the work is carried out by the training of those who will be involved in this task.

Fabrizio would ask you to consider and talk in groups about the following questions:

  1. Is there in your parliament any experience of freelance reporting in the past or now?
  2. Which is in your opinion the main reason for which your administration decided for an external cooperation in reporting? Only costs, or the difficulties to recruit new reporters?
  3. What are the controversial aspects with the external agencies or freelance reporters? And what are the benefits from this cooperation?
  4. What about the average delivery time of transcriptions?
  5. From 1 to 10, can you judge, together with your colleagues, the “value” of this experience?

Essentially, Fabrizio’s asks: what is the benefit to having extra staff not on the pay role, come in to fill in at times of need?

The German participant gives the following information about freelance reporting in the German parliament

External freelance reporting in the Shorthand Writers’ Service of the German Bundestag

As prescribed by the Rules of Procedure, the core duty of the Shorthand Writers’ Service of the German Bundestag is to draw up a stenographic record of every plenary sitting.

This record is made available to the Members of the German Bundestag, the members of the German Federal Government, the Members of the Bundesrat and the general public – in particular the media – as a printed publication. Since 1996, it has also been available in electronic form on the lnternet/Bundestag Intranet.

The Bundestag has established 22 permanent committees, which meet for approximately two to four hours each sitting week (approx. 22 sitting weeks per year). In addition to this, there is a range of other bodies such as study commissions, commissions on constitutional matters and committees of inquiry. Two committees of inquiry have been established so far in the current electoral term: the Committee of lnquiry into the Gorleben Nuclear Waste Disposal Site and the Kunduz Committee of lnquiry.

For reasons of capacity, the stenographic recording of committees and other bodies of the German Bundestag is concentrated on interviews of witnesses by committees of inquiry and hearings of experts on urgent or high-profile legislative projects. Here too, verbatim minutes are drawn up.

In addition to this, meetings of committees and other bodies are recorded stenographically only in very special, exceptional cases. lt is one of the duties of the committee secretariats to minute these meetings, work that is carried out by the committee secretary themselves or another senior official in the secretariat.

Since the meetings of the committees of inquiry have to be recorded stenographically in full and take place in parallel to plenary sittings, during which all the parliamentary shorthand writers are deployed drawing up the minutes of plenary proceedings, the Shorthand Writers’ Service employs external freelance reporters. According to the delivery of the minutes in a correct form they have to be flexible. Usually they attend the committee meetings on Thursday and send their parts of the minutes till Monday, 8.00 a.m. On Monday their work is revised by internal staff: by revisers and very experienced reporters.

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