RIBA pledges to kick out wage abuse firms

David Rogers

Angela Brady outside RIBA in July 2010.

Source: Dan Carrier

Brady promises to ’go after’ practices that fail to pay students at least minimum wage

The RIBA has said it will expel practices that ignore its new rules on student pay, with incoming president Angela Brady promising a zero-tolerance policy on the issue when she takes over in September.

From the beginning of July, RIBA-registered practices will have to pay students the national minimum wage under new membership rules. Members will be formally told of the changes next month when annual memberships renewals start.

The move follows recommendations from the RIBA’s Pay and Conditions working group set up last November by current president Ruth Reed.

This week Reed warned that firms that flouted the new rules would be struck off its register.

“They will lose their chartered practice status,” she said. “We’re trying to achieve a cultural change in the profession and I think the majority will handle this responsibly.”

Brady added that she would target non-payers when she becomes president. “I really will go after them,” she said. “This is not acceptable. It’s one thing giving students work experience but quite another exploiting them.”

Brady said one proposal was to make firms entering RIBA competitions sign a declaration that all students used had been paid. “Winning work using free labour is anti-competitive,” she said.

And she added that she would push for firms to pay more than the current minimum wage of £5.93 an hour for those aged 21 or over and £4.92 for those between 18 and 20.

”I will really go after firms that don’t pay students. This is not acceptable”

Angela Brady

“We shouldn’t be looking just to pay the minimum,” she said. “That’s not enough either. Students tell me that they feel they have no choice but to do it.”

The RIBA has said firms not paying students correctly will be given a chance to rectify the situation before they are suspended. Its group director of membership and professional supportRichard Brindley said: “If they still don’t put it right they will be struck off the chartered practice system.”

And he said students who were working at firms that ignored the new rules could call in anonymously and shop them.

But the founder of Architects Against Low Pay accused the RIBA of reacting too slowly on the issue.

Keith Tomlinson said: “The RIBA just stood by passively wringing their hands in the ivory tower in Portland Place. Unfortunately because they see themselves as a learned society they do not really operate effectively to promote and assist architects.”

Is the RIBA’s action on low pay tough enough? Join the debate here

Carrots, orange juice and dawn finishes

By BD Buildings Editor Oliver Wainwright

The RIBA’s announcement is a welcome step in the right direction but will it stop glamorous offices from luring star-struck students to their lairs to work for free?

I spent six months as an intern in a notorious Rotterdam sweatshop, rewarded with €400 a month – which rose to €600 a month after three months as a special treat – working an average of 100 hours per week, often more. This just about covered rent, and there was conveniently little else to spend money on: three meals a day were provided in the office, to prevent you from leaving, with fresh orange juice on tap – to keep the inevitable sickness at bay.

You started to notice things were wrong when you could no longer focus beyond the distance of your screen – a problem addressed in a rival office by the provision of raw carrots every morning – and when there was not enough space on the timesheet to log the 24hr shifts. Fun for a while but the novelty of dawn signalling the end of the working day soon wears off.

Barely paid internships have long been the norm in mainland Europe – where placements are often built into the university courses, or else topped up by the generous EU-funded Leonardo and Erasmus programmes – but such support structure has been crucially lost in translation to the UK, where “intern” is usually a flimsy disguise for free labour.

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