On Thursday the RIBA issued a press release, RIBA President Ruth Reed takes action to tackle student hardship and low pay, which set out proposals to deal with financial hardship amongst architecture students, graduates and young practitioners.
The proposals include:
- an increase in the student hardship fund (to help ‘at least another 100 students’);
- a review group to improve pay and employment conditions (and in particular ‘rigorous minimum pay requirements’) for implementation in 2011;
- a ‘campaign’ to remove exemption from minimum wage for practical training over six months;
- research into alternative careers for the 50% of graduates who don’t become architects.
Back in March the low pay issue hit the headlines with allegations that a London Architect Practice was offering a part-qualified architect a job at £400 for a 70 hour week, and I responded that these situations arise because either architects are either bad at business or they are willing to abuse employees (or both).
Looking at these new steps, which have been championed by RIBA President Ruth Reed, I’m encouraged by the review group because on the face of it the intention is to make a genuine effort to change the low pay culture of practice. The press release states that the review group will be comprised of representatives from small practice, ARCHAOS and APSAA, in other words small firms, students and professional studies advisors. Whilst it is a shame that there is no mention of large firms (who are surely not innocent of bad practice), at least this is encouraging.
On the other hand, the campaign to remove exemption from minimum wage for practical training over six months in effect means that a graduate or post graduate masters qualified architecture student can be employed for nothing at all for up to six months. Surely this isn’t acceptable? On the other hand, you might be shocked to learn that students in practical training are not entitled to the minimum wage, if their placement doesn’t exceed one year. (Thanks Malcolm Stroud)
Don’t moan, get stuck in!
The difficulty of course, will be in the effective implementation of these actions so that they produce real productive change where it is needed, i.e. graduates are paid a fair wage for a fair days work. This means any action must also tackle the long hours/unpaid overtime culture, or higher salaries will be meaningless.
It also means teaching people who have architectural practice how to run them on a profitable basis, and not to resort to exploitative employment practices as a substitute for business ethics, just because ‘its what we did when I was a Part II’.
If you’d like to get involved in this debate you should definitely join Keith Tomlinson’s Facebook Group ‘Architects against Low Pay’ which has over 2800 members. Ruth Reed has joined the group and is responding to forum discussions. Lets use our social tools to help her push ahead and make some real changes.