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Architects being ‘pressured’ into opting out of Working Time Directive


Architects are coming under pressure from employers to opt out of the 48-hour working week, according to an AJ survey

In the UK, employees can only legally work a maximum of 48 hours per week, as set out in the EU Working Time Directive, unless they choose to opt out.

The AJ’s recent Working in Architecture Survey, completed by more than 3,000 professionals, revealed a large proportion – 23.7 per cent – had chosen to sign away their right to the limit.

While employers can ask their staff to opt out, they cannot sack or treat staff unfairly who refuse to do so.

Yet many architects said employers had left them no choice. Writing anonymously, many even wrote they were told they would not get the job unless they signed the clause.

’There was little “choice” – you opt out if you want the job,’ one said, while another wrote: ’It is a mandatory part of our contract; I was unable to accept the job without exempting myself from this directive.’

One respondent said: ’I was not given a choice. It was included in my contract and I was told I could not remove it or make it separate.’

’Everyone is pressurised to opt out,’ wrote another.

RIBA’s executive director of professional services, Adrian Dobson, said it was ‘concerning’ that employees might be coming under pressure to opt out and reminded practices of their legal obligations.

’A healthy work/life balance is vital to our wellbeing, and the number of hours worked should not be a measure of success or a barrier to progression.

’We require employers to follow best practice and support their employees, and I encourage anyone who has been pressurised to opt out of a 48 hour week to seek legal help.

’RIBA members have access to 15 minutes of free legal advice from specialist practice consultants.’

The survey also revealed that 55 per cent (1,117 respondents) said they worked between five and 15 hours over their contracted hours every week.

According to the government’s website, employees can cancel an opt-out agreement at any point, even if it is part of their employment contract.

If you have been put under pressure to opt out of the 48-hour week, please contact ella.jessel@emap.com


Readers' comments (11)

  • So, I run a small practice and work all the hours god gives( significantly more than 48 hours!) whilst my staff do their 37.5. and are contracted up to 48 hours. What happens when I burn out which has happened a number of times in my career because i give a toss abut my job. The issue is fees which are still tight which means we have to either be very lean and efficient, pay f##k all to part 2 students or work stupid hours. Sod it, I'm taking the dog for a walk, it isn't worth it.

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  • If you cant operate your practice on your staff working 37.5hrs per week then you are not a) charging enough fees b) managing your workload c) working efficiently.

    If, as an employee you take a job that contracts 48hrs+ you're an idiot...if you expect that from your staff you're an Ars*h*le - pure and simple!

    I treat my staff as I would want to be treated and if that means we miss targets/deadlines - that's on me not on them. We as a profession cannot complain about low fees on one hand while on the other be expecting highly qualified staff to work 48hr weeks for well below a construction industry average salary. Madness

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  • Ha ha ha, 37.5 hrs per week! If only. The corrupting mindset of over-work being somehow an aspiration starts in the schools where students are still being cajoled, misled and inveigled into believing that enslaving themselves will some reap kind of reward. I seem to recall an early 19th century quote that describes the architect as the only person at the table with frayed cuffs. We're all guilty, the architects who over-deliver, the clients who now expect 3 times as much information to describe the same thing as in the past and the professional bodies who seem oblivious to the truth that we are all doing more and more for less and less.

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  • It is not possible to be productive by working silly hours (more than about 45 hours per week) Time spent working over 45 hours is wasted; little is achieved. Breaks and rest are essential. (Read 'The Productivity Project' by Chris Bailey).

    It seems to me that some architectural practices are employing one person when it should be two; or they are taking on far too much; or are making suicidal fee bids - or possibly a combination of all three?

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  • Architect need to stop doing things for nothing. Develop a new strategy.

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  • Can someone explain why aren't these practices being named and shamed?

    We should have a shitty architecture practices list, allowing practices that treat their employees well to get their pick of the litter while worse performing practices (on these criteria) will be forced to re-assess the way they are doing business.

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  • Once worked for a practice where staff were routinely working over 48hrs, and their timesheet allowed them to print a report highlighting how many weeks a year this happened. When management were confronted, they were told contracts would be changed to mandatory opt-out, and no staff *should* be working merely 37.5hours. It is architecture, after all.

    That facility was revoked from all staff's timesheets permissions soon after.

    The RIBA need to step up. Like unpaid internships, if practices force staff to opt out, or punish, bully or freeze staff out for doing so, they should be removed from the Chartered Practice list. They clearly aren't professional enough to manage workload and fees.

    PS Ronald - there was one about ten years ago online called archleaks. Pity its gone.

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  • I have worked up to and even over 100 hours per week many times, both in employment and while running my own practice. When you work for yourself you do what you want to do and I am happy doing this for myself but its unacceptable for employees.

    Its a condition that starts at University with 'all nighters' its then exploited by employers who know their recent graduates are used to it. This helps employers keep fees low. Universities need to take some blame here too.

    The whole issue is driven by low fees and a very time and labour intensive design process that no-one appreciates. Architects need to charge for their time appropriately and stop accepting low fees.

    On a smaller residential developments a developer can easily make over £1M profit. The 'average' architect who is responsible for realising this profit will get around 1% of this to planning. I know some Architects who's fees will be under 0.5% of the profit realisation.

    This is the fault of the RIBA & Architects for doing nothing about it. Low fees are a direct result of employee exploitation and as long as employees agree to do it & employers do not demand appropriate fees, it will continue.

    Architects don't help themselves by doing competitions for free. These competitions should be banned. A client should shortlist around 5 architects and pay them to produce a feasibility and then choose his Architect.

    Competitions enhance the perception that architects have nothing but free time to indulge in charity work that others can profit from. They are a scourge on our profession and I am continually disgusted that unpaid competitions, funded by under-payed and overworked employees, are encouraged by the RIBA, AJ & other organisations.

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  • Paul Lewis is on the right tack.
    Once again the AJ's shallow SJW warrior journalism looks at penalising for the symptoms rather than burrowing down a few layers for real ways to stop the cause of this problem.
    I run my own small practice. I employ quality staff and pay them a decent wage. Most potential clients see us as a commodity and take the lowest bidder. We don't do that work. We market ourselves as adding value, reducing risk and start early to try and build such "can only go with you" compulsion in a client that we get +better valued and can charge more. The problem is the lack of appreciation of what architects value is to a project. As a small practice we cannot change the perception of a nation, neither can a trade magazine like the AJ.
    But the RIBA can. I would double my subscription to the RIBA if it embarked on a national campaign in all the most visible media to educate potential clients out there the value of architects and the need to pay well. If you go to Foster and Partners and want Norman on your job you pay a large premium.
    So for a while RIBA, less concentration on SJW campaigns and more effort on the root cause of those symptoms, directed towards educating the client base out there in the most visible ways possible. Just like car manufacturers do about their products. McLoud has done more for our business with Grand Designs programme and magazine than the RIBA have done in the 40 years I've been a member. I vote McLoud for RIBA president next time round.

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  • Forget the RIBA. Join a union. The RIBA cares about Norman, not you.

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  • To add to what I said above - this is precisely the purpose of unions. The very reason for their existence. Architects are stuck in the mindset of the 50s where they all see themselves as the artist-master of the worksite, when in reality they're earning less than people flipping burgers and brickies and working enormous amounts of overtime. We are not masters of anything, we are exploited employees. Except unlike the brickie or burger flipper, we aren't smart enough to leave on time and think ourselves deeply heroic when doing all-nighters for competitions with no hope of remuneration

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