Architecture’s fledgling trade union has raised concerns over the exploitation of workers during the coronavirus pandemic
United Voices of the World – Section of Architectural Workers (UVW-SAW), which launched in October last year, has reported furloughed employees being asked to continue doing fee-paying work and practices expecting staff to have webcams on continuously so they can monitor them at home.
The union said some members who have spoken out against potential fraudulent use of the furlough scheme have been laid off, while other redundancies, often made without consultation, have picked out staff with ‘weaker’ employment rights.
Union member Kirti Durelle said: ‘Some of these cases may seem extreme but they are actually more widespread than one might think.
‘As an industry, we tend to be in denial about recurring employment issues experienced by many architectural workers. Unfortunately, some offices appear to be using the crisis as a way to avoid dealing with urgent human resources issues.’
He said it was ‘immoral’ for employers to make redundancies rather than use government funds to provide short-term stability for staff.
In March, UVW-SAW criticised the profession for its ‘overwhelmingly slow’ response to the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting many practices were insufficiently equipped to allow staff to work from home.
Since then, the union has heard from members of practices letting employment contracts expire rather than exploring furloughing, or using furlough agreements to impose contractual changes such as reduced notice periods or indefinite pay reductions. Some employers have tried to furlough staff during their notice period.
UVW-SAW’s members have also experienced employers imposing a four-day week without consultation, while newly-qualified architects have been charged out as architects but not received a pay rise to reflect their new status.
Union member Jake Arnfield said: ‘These rapid changes to employment conditions are being used as a battering ram for unrelated contract changes and indefinite wage reductions. Most shockingly of all, we have London-based members who have been furloughed expected to continue to work on fee-paying projects.
‘Members who have tried to organise in one workplace against this fraudulent activity are currently under threat of redundancy.’
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