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Architects' wages and conditions

edited June 2005 in Q and A
My architectural colleagues have collected a series of horror stories that point to the "dark side" of the architectural profession regarding wages and conditions. The combination of being a 'middle class" profession with an aversion to unionism and that being an employee is often presented as a temporary condition (because we of course all have equal (!) access to private practice) leads to a sullen and passive group- I was wondering whether these conditions persist particularly amongst recent graduates.Low wages unreliably delivered, late payment with the excuse that 'you will get your money when I get mine', long hours, tyrannical tantrums from the employer - is any of this still prevalent?

Some of my 'favourites' are :

The 3 prominent Melbourne design practices who have formed an informal cartel to keep wage parity between offices to avoid paying higher wages.This is not limited to them.

The possibly mentally ill designer who routinely exploits students and graduates whilst building private developments with his own money.

The husband and wife team who present the crude details of their buildings as a conscious dimension of their art with the reason being inexperienced ie.cheap (particularly in this office) staff.

Is this still going on and what can we to do about it? Do we boycott the recurring offenders?
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Comments

  • edited January 1970
    Survivor must have a new job by now...........
  • edited January 1970
    I worked in an office where a third year architectural student was being paid $3.50 per hour - this was 6 years ago, but think of most wages then and I don't believe you will find an equivalent. The "master" often forgot to pay him, when he couldn't avoid it any more, he paid $2.5 per hour! You may prefer not to believe this, I won't risk giving you the name of the practice, as I fear I could be punished instead!
    Years ago, I worked for "someone" who said to me that "I should be happy to work there (because of his name) - money is not everything" Although, It was everything to him and he wouldn't part from it by paying decent wages. Because money was important to me, having to feed and house my kids, I decided to continue working in school holiday programs.

    There is so much to say about this sickening way of practicing architecture.......
    I often wonder what is the RAIA doing about this, don't they know that their heroes behave like this? Do they care? Or are they the same ones?
  • edited January 1970
    survivor wrote:
    My architectural colleagues have collected a series of horror stories that point to the "dark side" of the architectural profession regarding wages and conditions. The combination of being a 'middle class" profession with an aversion to unionism and that being an employee is often presented as a temporary condition (because we of course all have equal (!) access to private practice) leads to a sullen and passive group- I was wondering whether these conditions persist particularly amongst recent graduates.Low wages unreliably delivered, late payment with the excuse that 'you will get your money when I get mine', long hours, tyrannical tantrums from the employer - is any of this still prevalent?

    Some of my 'favourites' are :

    The 3 prominent Melbourne design practices who have formed an informal cartel to keep wage parity between offices to avoid paying higher wages.This is not limited to them.

    The possibly mentally ill designer who routinely exploits students and graduates whilst building private developments with his own money.

    The husband and wife team who present the crude details of their buildings as a conscious dimension of their art with the reason being inexperienced ie.cheap (particularly in this office) staff.

    Is this still going on and what can we to do about it? Do we boycott the recurring offenders?

    who r the 3 prominent practices ?

    if r u refering to [deleted*] & [deleted*] why don't u just name them.

    *see post explaining below. Ed.
  • edited July 2005
    Survivor, no I am not referring to them, unfortunately, because this means that there are many more!
    I won't name them because I don't want to have them coming back with the law! The problem is that when I witnessed these things, I was the only one speaking up. The rest of the staff continued dreaming that, one day they would be like the "master "architect". While they knew this was wrong, they spoke about it in private and remained silent when it was crucial for them to speak out- don't we see this happening all the time? Is this the Australian way - I wonder sometimes.

    Well, I don't trust that these people - very nice people I must say - will support me as witnesses. Then, what is the point. You believe me or not.
    I agree that this should be made public, but where should we start? It would mean that ABC radio should re-consider their list of guests to their architectural reviews/programs, or put them on the spot - how caring and humane their designs really are - when they, as practitioners, exploit their staff?
  • edited January 1970
    who r the 3 prominent practices ?

    if r u refering to [deleted*] & [deleted*] why don't u just name them.

    'Survivor' may have withheld the names of those he was accusing as he would have been aware of the awful defamation laws in the State of Victoria, which are heavily weighted towards the unhappily maligned.
    The tort of defamation prevents publication of material which `tends to injure the personal, professional, trade or business reputation of an individual or a company, to expose them to ridicule or to cause people to avoid them'. ' The essence of a defamation action is damage to reputation, not that the publication was untrue.'
    http://www.mds.rmit.edu.au/law/node5.html

    When 'guest' names the practices, due to guest's anonymity guess who's door anyone will com knocking at? This website's.

    If guest wishes to make that assertion in public perhaps the best place would be the U.S. print media. But here? No way!

    e.g. Gutnick vs. Dow Jones
    http://www.findlaw.com.au/article/9966.htm
  • edited January 1970
    Butterpaper's position would be no different to this

    http://www.law4u.com.au/lil/ls_defamation.html

    even if be true or not.
  • edited January 1970
    It seems again that we get bogged down in the minor legalities of our arguments rather than approaching the problem as an industry wide phenomenon.

    There would be no effect of publicly boycotting specific architects other than further reducing the pubic image of the profession as a whole. Architects seem to, by preference, turn inwards when problems arise. Bad behaviour by commercial practices is symptomatic of our precarious position within the construction industry and our relationships with our clients.

    Our supposedly inherent dislike of unionism shouldn't dissuade us from utilising professional organisations such as the RAIA to move beyond self-indulgent back patting and actually form an industry body that actively self regulates.
  • edited January 1970
    CP
    The low public image is perhaps due to our lack of transparency and humility. If there are architects that tend to turn inwards, I wonder whether this is a reflection of our education, or/and reflection of the gender imbalance - nothing to be ashamed of, just something to consider and discuss openly.

    By the way, openness and humility may be some of the missing elements that, if present, could create a good and healthy image.
    I know many architects that do not turn inwards, great architects. Perhaps is time to turn outwards and discuss openly without the pretences and old behaviour patterns.

    While the RAIA may be a good platform to discuss these issues, the reality is that not all architects are members of this institution – for many reasons, including the high membership cost. A discussion inside the RAIA would not be inclusive of all architects.
  • edited January 1970
    Please don't forget the original question. Gender is not the issue in (this)question.

    The question of 'the 3 practices' wages parity. Well, there is no award and wages are based on supply and demand. Some practices are so busy they are paying Project Manager wages to 'call centre' like staff.

    Mentally ill designer? Really?! How is this a problem to the staff. You could just leave.

    Husband and wife team and crude detailing. That is there's, and the Insurers, problem.

    Boycott? Why not. It's called 'supply and demand'. Or do we really want unionism.

    Some of us who are paid well may find ourselves looking at lower wages. The ones paid badly might be out of a job.

    I don't have the answer, but when I bgan work in 1978 the same questions were raised.

    I recall vividly going to my Local Authority employer for a pay rise and his response was 'Do you realise some Architects in this town get paid less than you?' My reply was 'I can't see you sacrificing your wage for that reason. And maybe that is all they are worth (to the market)."
  • edited January 1970
    I am stil dubious about boycotting - as an individual (and particularly as a student or recent graduate) one can't afford to rule out potential employers, regardless of their reputations. In terms of singling out entire offices, you would be hard pressed to find a single major office that didn't exploit staff in one way or another. University tutors routinely exploit selected students under the guise of 'experience' or 'workshop'. The abuse of junior architects is spread evenly throughout the industry.

    I'm all for unionism. The official award wage for an architectural student (last time I checked) was still below minimum wage. APESMA's award rates are significantly higher, but are generally scoffed at by employers. While it is all very well to whinge about the bottom end, unless the industry protects the interests and integrity of all its members, it will continue to be exploited as a whole.

    Working in a firm that currently is paying big money to "call centre" staff (ie. contractors), the life expectancy, quality of work and general conditions are such that the diference in pay becomes insignificant. Treating the workplace within the mentality of supply and demand is yet another step in the wrong direction and further undermines the industry as a whole.
  • edited January 1970
    Unionism, yeh.
    Any chance we can get affiliation with the CFMEU or somesuch?
    RDO's picnic days, fixed long weekends etc.
    I mean, we're in the construction industry too, aren't we?
  • edited January 1970
    I have updated the practice page with current links to the architects award rates.
    Tis here: http://www.butterpaper.com/resource/practice.php

    The current entry wage for a graduate is $34,653.

    Students should receive
    35% of this for their first 13 weeks
    50% of this for their second 13 weeks
    Next 26 weeks of employment 65%
    etc

    From here on the numbers might get a bit shaky...
    35% of $34,653 is $12,128.55 p.a. Divide by 221work days p.a. in Victoria gives $54.88 per day divided by 7.6 hours gives $7.22 + super.

    After 13 weeks (or 390 hours for part timers) this goes up to $10.31 + super
    After 26 weeks (or 780 hours) this rises to $13.41 + super
    etc

    I think these rates, which are really subsidised by the students themselves, don't take into account the monetary strains a modern HECS student faces. Most current employers went through university for free and were paid allowances to go.

    When a student shows up at a bigger office, they will often end up doing the printing, filing, stationery and archiving work which isn't terribly educational, or they will work on 3D visualisations and models which noone else can afford to do. I'm not saying that students don't learn in architect's offices, but am saying that the value of the experience can vary wildly from office to office. The non-architectural work that is performed by a student should be paid at rate closer to clerical wages. Assuming that a proportion of the work done by all students is clerical, noone should be paid the bare $7.22.

    Happy to argue it though!
  • edited January 1970
    Whenever a student or graduate student enters the office the first thing i do is get into their ear about wages. I work for an employer who fortunately sees things this way also as he still has the compassion to remember his early days. However i can recall not knowing these things either, these things are not taught at uni and you never know your own value until a few years later.

    Even at uni i push the point to students who ask for advice on these matters is 'to never work for nothing', even if it is work experience. We all know firms which use these students, even going as far as stating 'you should be paying me to work here'!

    Everybodies time is worth something, and until you work out how valuable you are you have to feel the water, talk to other people about wages, ask them what other people get paid (stuff the secret society on other peoples wages) and stand firm with the 'masters'. if its too low say so, even laugh at them, looked shocked, and thank them for their time and walk away. all you have to remember is that they need you more than you need them....
  • edited January 1970
    most students and recent graduates aren't worth a pinch of shit in the work place - they should be happy for the expeirience - pay em nothin.
  • edited January 1970
    well crafted response. this is sometimes true, and this may be the fault of the education system not being anything close to reality, however im guessing (through your writing style) that you were one of the top students in your class and that you immediately fell into a well paid job because of your talent and wit when you first started. anyhow perhaps dharma bum is right, why dont we join the CFMEU and jump on board the construction union train. sorry gotta go, my 36 hour week is up.
  • edited January 1970
    I think I have worked for architects like the last guest and have been scarred by it.
    If students do not get the training to be immediately useful in offices where are they to get it if not in practices? Since explicit training does not seem to be on the agenda for most offices, when it is given it is greatly appreciated and reciprocated in dedication in my experience. Of course if we don't train them we can of course go overseas in Howard's Australia and import them. Is this preferable? :shock: :shock: :shock:
  • edited January 1970
    For anyone who is a student here, not having experience is not your fault, is no one's fault. The lack of experience is overplayed by those who would like to justify (in their minds) the greed displayed when paying those appalling rates to students.
    There are some set rates, as Peter mentioned before, those are generally not followed by the same ones that use this forum to insult students and the ones following this topic.

    If anything, I think that universities put too much emphasis on the individualism of the architect's profession, above ethics and obligation to society - that is why many do not think twice about mistreating their young staff members and are so opposed to unions, pretty much like “honest Howard”.

    No profession can ensure practice, before its is practiced. The argument that students lack practice is hollow. Of course, some architects who have gone through exploitation themselves as recently graduates, will probable continue this ill treatment. This only says one thing: “personality disorders” should not become a fix feature of the profession and nobody should be submitted to it.
  • edited January 1970
    I wanted to substantiate my comment “personality disorder”, I was sure I had seen it somewhere used to described some architects (in a less serious manner), couldn’t find it. However, many of the examples above amount to that. Perhaps the most important point being that too many have issues regarding the treatment of their employees and professional ethics - I mean, bad treatment and bad ethics.

    Below a quote from Gary Stevens’ website:
    “Fifty years ago, Donald MacKinnon conducted a whole battery of psychological tests on three test groups of architects: the average, the good and the exceptionally creative. None of the architects were especially sociable. All three of MacKinnon's groups regarded the architect's responsibility to society as unimportant.” (http://www.archsoc.com/kcas/Dontlikepeople.html)

    I would also like to suggest a visit to Gary Stevens’ website. While the style maybe off-putting to some, I believe the information is pretty accurate: http://www.archsoc.com/kcas/rfj.html
  • edited January 1970
    liamrooney wrote:
    well crafted response. this is sometimes true, and this may be the fault of the education system not being anything close to reality, however im guessing (through your writing style) that you were one of the top students in your class and that you immediately fell into a well paid job because of your talent and wit when you first started. anyhow perhaps dharma bum is right, why dont we join the CFMEU and jump on board the construction union train. sorry gotta go, my 36 hour week is up.

    prissy w****r

    [moderator edited]
  • edited January 1970
    No flaming please, let's keep it civil...

    the moderator is moderating in moderation
  • edited January 1970
    At the end of the day, it's about knowing your rights, and having the strength of character to back yourself.

    Employers aren't interested in dealing with introverted graduates who think they are struggling geniuses (as most uni grad's seem to believe they are!) What i mean is, you have to have a worth to an employer beyond the basic 9-5er mentality, and it's the same in any profession, or career, or sport.

    Abilities aside, Architecture is not an individualistic pursuit - you have to communicate with PEOPLE (clients, consultants, councils, employers, the person at the desk next to you). If you don't contribute beyond the act of drafting, or push for more responsibility, then there are those out there who will (and are) doing it, and being rewarded for it!

    ... and those people are NOT smug about it, they are getting on with BUSINESS!

    Get fired up and do something about it if you're not happy with your situation!


    - a hard working, adequately rewarded, recently registered architect, 5 years out-of-uni.
  • edited January 1970
    I would hope that the struggling genius complex would be beaten out of you after a couple of weeks...however, what rights do you have? The problem with student employment conditions is that there is no actual enforcable limit to how low your wages can go! Isn't it true that no-one can work on a building site without being paid? Where is the accepted botom limit - the award rate is so low it may as well not exist, and who is going to quote award wages to a potential employer? When I was in that position they were quoting them to me while rubbing their hands together with excitement and polishing their german cars.

    If you don't think that students and graduates are worth paying - don't employ them. If they are working they should be paid - at least at a rate competitive with major fast-food chains.
  • edited January 1970
    We are a husband and wife team and have been operating successfully- not going bankrupt- for the last 8 years.

    A steady stream of clients and a passion for clear and comprehensive detailing means that we have less stress about future outcomes, but a huge workload.

    As I do not want to have staff who will try and steal clients to do it cheaper on the side, or sudents who need constant supervision and checking of works we elect to stay small and avoid the need to deal with the stress of employing staff.

    Students that we have had in the past are not much use above printing and filing and even then have a propensity to stuff it up. Paying students to give them exposure to the industry at the outset of their involvement in the profession should be limited to those students who have a minimum and quantifiable experience level- lets say minimum 6 months non earning practice experience with benchmarking of capabilities.
  • edited January 1970
    I am a student who does not require "constant supervision", and can be relied upon for purposes more meaningful than "printing and filing". Perhaps you've had bad experiences in the past (I'm not saying that all students are worthwhile employees), but that doesn't make it okay to dismiss us all.

    Not wanting to sound too pumpkin pie, but feeling the need to speak up for what would seem to be the under-represented in this particular thread (and indeed site), I just want to remind people that having students in architectural offices can provide meaningful experiences and outcomes for both concerned parties.

    Constantly devaluing students both verbally (see: previous post) and actually (i.e. $3.50 wages) is an unfortunately common practice that isn't overly productive in a profession that already suffers from a serious lack of respect.
  • edited January 1970
    but feeling the need to speak up for what would seem to be the under-represented in this particular thread (and indeed site)

    At the risk of veering off this thread's topic, please be a little more specific - how does this site under-represent students?
  • edited January 1970
    To clarify, I didn't mean to imply that this site misrepresents | under-represents students, merely that it seems to be utilised mostly by non-students. Or such is my observation, anyway.
  • edited January 1970
    i used to work for 2 architects as a student draftsman.

    in went in with the first architect when the mutual undertsanding that i was going there to learn and not get paid to work... there was no problem. after a year and a half, i was at the stage where i was making a contribution to the business that was worthy of payment. a discussion was had and a verbal agreement was made. three months later, i was not paid, after a brief confrontation i was told to swallow my pride and was told how hard it was for this architect when they had started. i was not interested because we had come to a mutual agreement and i often worked 10 hour days, not just for the money, but to demonstrate my determination.all of the effort was over-looked and it took a lawyer to finally get my deserved payment. - the unfortunate thing about this is that it was probably the best place i could have ever worked for. i loved the projects, loved going to work, getting involved, etc. i was extremely disappointed by the events and left.

    second architect i worked for offered a good wage, i was still a student (though quite advanced). unfortunately the workplace wasnt anywhere near as interesting as the first place- boring developer type stuff with little to no detailing, minimal specification, and just plain butt ugly. - so i left.

    went back to university and became an urban designer.

    MY HOW THE TABLES HAVE TURNED...
  • edited January 1970
    sounds like you couldn't hack it chief. in my book that's a step backwards!

    took the easy path to a cushy bureaucratic public servant council job to 'assess' DA's perhaps?
  • edited January 1970
    haha council.
    no chance.
    i said urban design, not statutory planning.

    archietcture students beware:
    "cushy bureaucratic public servant"
    is now termed as "architect".


    please.
  • edited January 1970
    so you couldn't handle being a drafty, envied the architects, and so became an urban designer because you think you're on top?

    Dude, you got issues.

    You do know that architects do urban design too!
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