Part of the Territory? A response from the ACA

20 March 2017

Poor workplace cultures and conditions are bad for everyone – employee, employer and the wider profession. David Wagner responds to one recent account, and argues that these should not be part of the territory of practice.

A recent post on the blog That Architecture Student is a timely exposé of the challenges of surviving in a poor working environment. ‘Part of the territory? Reflections of a Recent Graduate’ describes the experience of the anonymous author in a practice beset by poor management, which is compounded by a lack of clear office procedures and protocols, a culture lacking in respect between employer and employees (and indeed peppered by verbal abuse), all within a culture characterised by excessive working hours. It sounds unpleasant, and I am sure many of us have lived through aspects of this experience during our working lives. However, it is important to remember that the reported mode of running an architectural practice is unethical, unlawful and unproductive.

The Association of Consulting Architects works to encourage a positive working experience for both employees and employers. This enables them to work together to serve a demanding construction industry in return for payment that supports our working infrastructure and the salaries that we all take home. The Architects Award 2010, as regularly updated, sets out the rights and obligations of employees and employers to provide for a fair and reasonable working environment in the architectural service sector for students and graduates of architecture as well as architects.

The comment at the end of the blog, that ‘We [today’s graduates] will be running the firms, hiring students and graduates, we will be shaping the professions and we can start to act now to improve the industry’, underlines the fact that we are all momentary players moving through the industry. Observing fair working conditions benefits not only today’s employees and employers, but also those of tomorrow.

What does the Architects Award say?

The Architects Award outlines ordinary working hours as those worked between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday inclusive, with ordinary hours of duty to not exceed 38 hours. Hours worked in excess of that time are considered overtime and should be reimbursed through payment for specific hours at the rate of 1.5 hours for every hour worked, or through a salary that has a general allowance in excess of minimum requirements to accommodate the payment of such hours. Alternatively, and with the written agreement of both parties, overtime payment may be addressed through time-in-lieu (at the rate of 1.5 hours for every hour worked outside of ordinary hours). This should be taken within six months and otherwise paid out after that time.

Should an employee find themselves in a culture of long hours with no recompense offered – as described in the blog post – they should refer their employer to the obligations of the Architects Award. Should that discussion not result in a satisfactory outcome, consider the subsequent advice given in the blog – seek alternative employment with an employer that does recognise and abide by the obligations of the Architects Award.

How does the ACA help?

The ACA urges all architectural businesses to understand and meet their obligations under the Architects Award and the Fair Work Act (2009). The ACA provides many resources to assist. These include the Know Your Award series, the Architects Award FAQ, further legal obligations including information about anti-bullying legislation, advice about attracting and retaining staff, and the Architects’ Time/Cost Calculation Guide, which helps practices work out the fees required to deliver projects with adequate resources.

David Wagner is a director of Atelier Wagner and a committee member of ACA – Vic/Tas.