Architects lead in so many ways: co-ordinating and leading complex projects on the journey from idea to performing facility, advocating for healthy communities and planet, and caring for the built environment. It seems fitting that our industry should step forward to lead once again, by advocating for ever-healthier workplace and employment standards.
For some months our firm has been looking into issues of equity and fairness in how architecture is practiced. Employment standards, respect for everyone’s efforts and contributions, and healthy workplaces are key to our success. As professionals, we want to lead in these areas, and where better to start than with our own industry? Good can always be better, and less than good should never be acceptable.
Exemptions to Minimum Employment Standards in the Professions
It’s not generally well-known that some professionals are exempt from certain employment standards: entitlement to minimum wage, entitlement to overtime pay, or even vacation. Practitioners of architecture are one of this group, which includes practitioners of law, medicine, engineering, and others.
Why is that? Well, I’d say that’s because the practicing architect owes a duty of care to the public good, and has professional obligation to society and clients. This can’t be inhibited by how hard it is, or how long it takes, to get the job done right. Fair enough. We are a self-regulating profession that must meet the standards of the Architects Act, to preserve and protect the public interest.
That doesn’t mean this exemption should apply to everyone in the office though.
Unfortunately, the interpretation of employment standards in our profession seems to be that all architects, even the Interns, are not deserving of protections regarding hours, pay, and conditions. To my view, this is unfair. While I understand the reasoning that the practicing professional who is responsible for a design is exempt, the intern, the non-practicing architect, and the remainder of the staff, are performing their duties under the direct supervision of that practicing architect. They do not bear the same responsibility, and in our industry they are vulnerable to long hours, poor work-life balance, and sometimes little or no pay for extraordinary hours and efforts.
So we are aiming to change this situation, in the interest of fairness and equity.
I have submitted a motion to the 2017 Annual General Meeting of the Ontario Association of Architects for consideration by the membership, in Ottawa on May 24th. We hope that architects can make a strong statement to our Council and to the public that as a self-governing profession we are capable of higher standards, and do not fear to be measured by them.
We invite all like-minded professionals to join us in the effort, regardless of profession. Ours is a fast-paced, deadline driven environment, but that is true of many other industries and workplaces in the 21st Century. We can all benefit from healthier workplaces and respect for everyone’s contributions.
For many years we’ve carried the following quotation from Jane Jacobs on our website, from her book Canadian Cities and Sovereignty-Association:
“All of us, if we are reasonably comfortable, healthy and safe, owe immense debt to the past. There is no way, of course, to repay the past. We can only pay those debts by making gifts to the future.”
In our own practice we strive to uphold principles of fairness and equity. We reach beyond a carefully contrived minimum duty within or below the law, to a more equitable place for all of us. We don’t believe that all who work in the profession of architecture are so lucky. There are and will continue to be pockets of activity and behaviour in the professions that must be improved. Jane’s message resonates with us as a goal for everyone. So we’ve set our sights on a gift to the future, to build upon the Healthy Workplace initiative that the Ontario Association of Architects is already considering.
Click to view Equity and Fairness in Our Profession for specific discussion of the issues and the motion I am bringing forward for the consideration of my colleagues in architecture, and some personal points of view on the Employment Standards Act.
Your comments and discussion are most welcome, about how best to make this gift to the future. It’s a gift that is timely and needed.
– John MacDonald, OAA, MRAIC