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paul hyett

No-one who witnessed the presentations by Marc Corbett and Nick Hayhurst to last week's RIBA Council Meeting could fail to be moved by their courage and intelligence. For over an hour they stood their ground as speaker after speaker contributed to this complicated debate. But their bid to establish mandatory minimum salary levels for year-out students working in offices was unsuccessful.

Out too went their recommendations for formal employment contracts, holiday and sick pay arrangements, and additional pay packages for extended working hours. (This is 2000, not 1950! ) So, it was a tough day for Corbett and Hayhurst, especially after their relatively easy ride at the Archaos conference which generated this manifesto.

But it wasn't through lack of concern, for few at council felt anything but sympathy when the 22-year-old Hayhurst summed up their case.

The problem council faced was in knowing quite how and where to act. Clearly, it can offer guidance over employment terms, but to go further and impose obligations on practices has far reaching implications which need very careful consideration, including whether they would be ultra vires (i. e. beyond the institute's legal powers). It would be highly irresponsible for the RIBA to introduce obligations on its members which can be overturned in a court of law, so careful examination and, if necessary, amendment of its constitution would be necessary before any such initiatives could be put in place.

And anyway, a prudent view on an issue of such potential controversy would require widespread soundings through consultation with the regions, branches, and general membership. And so it goes on . . .

None of this provides any comfort for the Archaos representatives who, having just obtained substantial funding from SCHOSA, are now establishing a regular broadsheet through which they aim to further inform and mobilise student opinion.

Neither does it satisfy John Wright, vice president for practice, who spoke with passion of the shameful conditions that exist and urged the RIBA to do all it can to establish decent and fair employment terms for yearout students throughout the country. He also warned that his committee will not yield until reasonable conditions are in place for students.

But however critical Wright, Hayhurst or Corbett might be of the more conservative or market-orientated views expressed by some of the council members, the real shame here does not lie with the RIBA - it lies with those employers who operate so callously, and with the society that has fostered such an irresponsible development and construction industry in which architects must 'perform.'

Remember, architects do not enjoy protection of function, and mandatory minimum fee scales were outlawed under Thatcher's government in the interests of competition and the consumer. She also effectively destroyed the union movement - (who can name the current leader of the TUC? ). Is it a coincidence that in the postThatcher period we find a profession which has effectively lost its dignity and its morality?

Dignity has gone because its members are too often willing to give their time cheaply and even freely. Morality has been cast aside in the consequent struggle for survival. The result is a weak and exploited profession.

And this is where Corbett and Hayhurst will, in time, be shown to have served us all so well. Their initiative will lead to greater scrutiny of their schools of architecture.

Graduates will demand that their education prepares them better for 'work, ' and with that strength, both they and the practices that they work for will be better able to sell their services. Architecture, clients and the public will be the beneficiaries of that.

Tim Drewitt was of course right when he claimed that education must offer more than merely preparation for practice, but all should heed Roger Stonehouse's warning that this matter needs further review. That it will get, but the reprieve will be short.

Hayhurst will be back at July's council meting with a more robust proposal which, hopefully, will carry and endure.

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