The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on both local businesses and larger organizations. The impact has been widespread in different classes of society. Although many companies and organizations have shifted to ‘Work from Home’ for a while now, some of the sectors are facing major exploitation amidst this pandemic. Many architecture studios around the UK have been cutting the pays of their architecture workers. Firms are also making the staff work while furloughed even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Who are the United Voices of the World’s Section of Architectural Workers (UVW-SAW)?
The Section of Architectural Workers union has raised a voice against these disparities. The United Voices of the World’s Section of Architectural Workers (UVW-SAW) has been at the forefront in analyzing these situations. They have claimed that such issues have created a major toll on the architectural workers. The UVW-SAW has also claimed that many firms are treating a pandemic as an excuse for ignoring the disciplinary procedures a workspace should follow while practicing. The union has stated that the workers are forced to take pay cuts and are made to visit unsafe offices.
Previously, the union has been at the forefront in supporting policies such as including outsourced workers in-house such as security staff, cleaners, and sex workers. In recent times a separate branch for culture and design was formed. The union has 50 members in it so far. They’ve had a list of demands since its inception which mainly includes transparent pay structures, regulated working hours, ethical practice, and accountable employees. The ideologies are to establish sustainable practices that are based on an equal platform rather than a dictatorial format.
“It is workers who are bearing the brunt of this crisis, be that by having to work in an unsafe office, having to pick up work from furloughed colleagues, or by being expected to take pay cuts that disproportionately impact junior staff,” said UVW-SAW
Unpaid overtime, late working hours, precarious contracts have been seen in the architectural community for several years. Many architects around the world have now started raising their voices against this.
“Spending almost 10 years at uni to be paid £20,000 doesn’t seem right. I was getting fed up with the dysfunctional nature of the profession. It’s an incomplete crisis. Practices are undercutting each other, competing on fees in a race to the bottom, and it’s the workers who bear the brunt.”,
says Joseph, a qualified architect who recently left the award-winning practice he had worked at for five years, to become a (better-paid) technical consultant.
Even Pregnant architecture workers aren’t spared!
According to the union, a recent case was seen where a pregnant architecture worker had started showing the symptoms of the virus. She decided to self-isolate herself. On the fourth day of her being in self-isolation, her employer called and told her that her contract has been terminated. The practice tried to avoid paying her due to a three-month contractual notice period by encouraging her into unpaid leave.
“These are structural problems with the industry,” says union member Esma. “It begins at university, with the masochistic studio culture of staying late and courses designed to breed individual competition rather than collaborative working. We’re taught to believe architecture is like a religion. We’re trying to make it heard that we’re workers and our rights matter.”
The union has also stated that many practices are mandating the use of webcams at all times to monitor the employee’s progress. The check-in for the roll-call meetings is also being taken twice daily.
Architecture workers day to day struggles
Many of these problems have always been a part of an architectural workplace. People all around the world in the architectural field are experiencing these problems daily. Right from the ratio of inadequate pay to the long working hours. In many countries, interns are being used as cheap labor. This exploitative practice persists and has now showcased a gruesome aspect of its existence. Extensive hours of unpaid overtime have been a common aspect in an architect’s day-to-day life. Extended probation periods are also being used to mold and threaten people into working for long hours. Some even get dismissed for leaving on time!
This crisis has only increased more after the coronavirus outbreak, an already flawed system seen deteriorating more. RIBA has stated that the coronavirus outbreak has been one of the worst hits for the architectural industry as many have lost their income after it.
A new ‘normal’ should also be an empowered ‘normal’!
It’s time to start mapping our steps towards a sustainable architectural future not just in our buildings but even in our practices. Architecture workers might say that a low wage policy is due to the low fees that a firm gets, but the reason for taking work for such a low rate is flawed. The workforce thus needs to be unionized so that the value of architectural labor gets overall raised.
This has indeed risen after the pandemic and, now this initiative deserves more momentum in the coming years. For long architects have accepted their fates as a low-paying, long working hours sector, but now we need to change the way we look at our practices. It is time now that we start Rethinking the Future!