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Coronavirus: Union slams architecture’s ‘overwhelmingly slow’ response

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Architecture’s new trade union has criticised the profession’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which it says has been ’overwhelmingly slow’

The United Voices of the World – Section of Architectural Workers (UVW-SAW), which was launched in October last year and has over 100 members, said many practices had shown a lack of care for their staff’s health and wellbeing.

Many are not sufficiently equipped to allow their staff to work from home, and most are still asking workers to continue to come into the office, the union claimed.

The UK government has not yet ordered offices to close, and the RIBA has not issued any guidance advising practices to do so.

Some practices, such as David Kohn Architects in Camden, have already sent staff home as a precaution but many others have said they would struggle with remote working. 

The union has made three demands of practice bosses: actively encourage flexible working, ensure full-salary sick pay for those not able to work because of the crisis, and guarantee no staff are made redundant because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Jake Arnfield, UVW-SAW member and co-ordinator said: ’The profession is dumbfounded and wholly unprepared to appropriately deal with this situation. It highlights so clearly the pre-existing vulnerabilities of workers in our profession.’

Kirti Durelle, another union member, said: ’The stories we are hearing highlight how some employers neglect their duty of care to their staff in the sector compared with, for example, higher education, where most universities have already moved all teaching to online platforms.’

Section of Architectural Workers (SAW) is a union for all staff who work in the profession, from architects to architectural assistants, BIM technicians, model makers, administrative staff and cleaners.

SAW set up to combat what it calls the sector’s ‘toxic culture’ of overwork, underpay and discrimination. It also aims to fight issues such as a lack of support surrounding mental health and ‘unethical practice’.

The union is part of United Voices of the World, a relatively young trade union which formed in 2014 and represents low-paid cleaning staff, predominantly from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Small but vocal, it has won significant victories, such as bringing the London School of Economics’ outsourced cleaning staff back in-house. 

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