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Coronavirus: RIBA furloughs third of workforce as profession stands staff down

Theis + Khan's revamp of 76 Portland Place

The RIBA has confirmed it will be furloughing 30 per cent of its near-300 UK workforce in response to the coronavirus crisis

The membership organisation, whose president Alan Jones is being investigated over a potential abuse of position and RIBA funds, said it would be relying on the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to ‘safeguard jobs and ensure a level of financial security for the institute’. 

Under the scheme, the HMRC pays 80 per cent of employees’ salary up to £2,500 per month for those who otherwise would have been laid off during the crisis. 

The AJ has also learned that Benoy (see comment below) and AJ100 practices AHMM, Sheppard Robson, Scott Brownrigg and Atkins have also put staff on furlough.

Yesterday (7 April) Foster + Partners announced it had furloughed some of its employees and asked every staff member to take a 20 per cent pay cut as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The RIBA’s chief executive Alan Vallance, said: ‘The RIBA is focused on providing members with the information, guidance and support they need during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

‘Like many other organisations, the RIBA will furlough 30 per cent of our UK-based employees through the UK government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This will help safeguard jobs and ensure a level of financial security for the institute.

‘I am incredibly proud of the way colleagues have responded to the coronavirus outbreak so far – ensuring we remain fully operational through remote working – and thank them for their continued efforts to support the profession during this difficult time.’

Speaking about its decision to furlough some of its workforce, Sheppard Robson partner Alan Shingler said: ‘We are now successfully working remotely to service existing projects and are still receiving new enquiries, however some projects which are currently on site have stopped, which is impacting on our workload.

‘Therefore, it has become necessary to furlough some members of our technical team and also some central staff whose roles are not required while we are working remotely.’

He added: ‘We want to do everything we can to ease the stress on our team in these uncertain times while also protecting the health of our business. We are currently topping-up all our team’s income to ensure they receive 80 per cent of their full salary and that all our members of staff receive at least the London Living/ National Living Wage (depending on location of office). 

‘We have not made any redundancies or pay cuts at this time.’ 

A spokesperson for AHMM said: ’Like many others, the last three weeks have been a shock to the system for us, and the dynamic nature of the situation means that we are keeping an even closer eye on the business than we normally do.

‘For the time being however, we continue to work together at full strength from home, thanks to the resourcefulness and adaptability of our people.

’We have introduced a number of appropriate cost-saving measures, including asking those who cannot work from home to go on furlough until further notice, and will continue to monitor our situation and react as and when necessary.’

According to the early findings from the AJ’s latest coronavirus survey (see graph right), 13 per cent of the nearly 400 architects, architectural assistants and technologists who responded said they had been put on furlough.

Another 32 per cent said their practice was considering falling back on the government’s job retention scheme.

One anonymous respondent said: ‘All but two members of staff are now on furlough.’

However Zaha Hadid Architects said it had only furloughed 15 of its 348 London-based employees and that its office in Beijing had now reopened ’with all staff returning’. The practice added that it was now ’planning to enlarge’ its China teams ‘due to increasing workloads’.

Furloughing, redundancies and market rebound – Benoy’s global experience of the coronavirus 

The world is a very different place since the outbreak of Covid-19. In order to remain as financially secure as possible, we have been forced to review our working practices across the globe.

In January, we undertook a review of our Asia-Pacific business as the virus took hold in the region. In Shanghai, the studio was closed for seven weeks but all staff were retained and worked their normal hours remotely. The recent peak of new cases in Singapore has closed our studio there, but again, all staff are working from home. Hong Kong continues to face challenging market conditions, both as a result of the virus but also the aftermath of the political unrest in 2019. The studio is practising a combination of in-studio and remote working to deliver projects.

In summary, over the last eight weeks in Asia, we have been able to manage work, cashflow and retain all but 10 members of our 250 staff there.

In the UK 26 staff have been furloughed and four have left permanently

As of the 1 April, we have taken action to protect the Europe, the Middle East and Africa business in light of a handful of projects going on hold. As of the 8 April, 26 members of the 170 Europe, the Middle East and Africa team have been furloughed in line with the UK government’s Job Retention Scheme. A further four members of staff have permanently left the business through a combination of redundancy or termination of contract. We haven’t taken these decisions lightly and we’re doing what we have to do to be in the best position possible when business returns to normal. Our remaining staff are working normal contracted hours, which we will review again in early May.

On a positive note, we are encouraged by the speed at which the China and Asian market is returning and the number of clients globally who are still in need of our wide-ranging design expertise


Readers' comments (4)

  • This is a difficult time for all, but I can't help but feel some practices are being singled out for attempting to react to the struggle. No one has dealt with this before and support has been offered by the government. Let's support each other. Stay safe all.

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  • Why has the RIBA furloughed Staff and in doing so expecting the public purse to pick up the tab, when Subscriptions are already in as of January and up on previous years?

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  • Whether the RIBA bookshops are completely closed or still trading online, the loss of that income in itself surely can't explain the need to furlough ninety staff, so what other income has the Institute lost?
    There are now two questions that the RIBA currently needs to address - and I wonder how the staff to be furloughed have been selected?

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  • I strongly disagree with RIBA for placing staff on Furlough without evidence of significant lost income. The scheme is funded by the public to prevent redundancies. Are all those selected by the RIBA in danger of being made redundant or is the RIBA just taking advantage of us all?

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