Architects look to change employment standards

A Kitchener architect wants to see changes to how his industry treats its employees and has presented his idea to the provincial body to make architecture a better place to work.

Kitchener architect received overwhelming support for a motion about provincial exemption

The architecture industry is moving to change how its employees are regulated. A Kitchener architect presented a motion to the Ontario Association of Architects to overhaul industry work standards, and the OAA has met with the province to remove its exemption from the Employment Standards Act. (Shutterstock/Mizin Roman)

A Kitchener architect wants to see changes to how his industry treats its employees and has presented his idea to the provincial body to make architecture a better place to work.

John MacDonald, principal architect at John MacDonald Architects, says the industry needs to stop hiding behind exemptions of the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to create a better work-life balance, especially for those entering the field.

"That which we did in the past doesn't have to be that which we do as we go forward," MacDonald told CBC K-W's The Morning Edition

Architects are also in a profession that receive exemptions from the ESA, which means employees don't have to be paid for overtime or follow regulations for hours of work or between shifts.

One of the biggest issues, MacDonald said, is that recent graduates or intern architects are classified as students by the Ontario Association of Architects can sometimes bear the brunt of these exemptions.

But long, unpaid hours aren't only for recent graduates, he said. If a firm is bidding for a project like a university, the firm will have to come up with renderings of the project, which requires many hours of work but will only get a small fee for the work that goes into proposal.

'Sacrifice for your passion'

Employees are often told they will receive time off in lieu or a bonus once a project is complete, but it doesn't always happen.

"It's a so-called sacrifice for your passion, but it's not right," he said.

McDonald said he doesn't think this should be the case and the profession needs to change with the times.

"We're heading forward into an era where it's important that we address healthy workplace balances across all the professions," he said. "It doesn't have to be this way nor should it be."

He acknowledges the sentiment in architecture – and other professions such as law and journalism – is that senior people in the industry went through challenging years, newer architects should do the same.

'We lose good people'

"I think we lose good people. Where people are in a position that they can't accept such an unhealthy work life balance, they may be caregivers, they may be people looking to start a family or be in an economic situation where they're simply not able to work unpaid overtime or work as an unpaid intern in order to gain experience they need," MacDonald said.

"These are all barriers where people are looking at this kind of thing and saying that's not for me."

To encourage the industry to improve working conditions, and change the rules classifying people as students and practitioners MacDonald presented a motion about the changes at the annual general meeting of the OAA in Ottawa on Wednesday.

The non-binding motion passed with 160 in favour and seven against.

"There are steps that professions can take and I think our profession is taking leadership on this and we challenge other industries to step up to the plate," MacDonald said.

MacDonald's motion also proposed that the changes "have some teeth," which would mean those who didn't follow the revised rules could be found in violation of policies and penalized for professional misconduct.

Even though the vote was non binding, MacDonald said he expects the OAA to take the overwhelming support into account and work to implement some changes.

Removing ESA exemption

Ontario has been undergoing a review of the ESA, which could mean improved work conditions for many employees including sick days, an increase in minimum vacation time. Many of the changes are geared to those in precarious employment, but the review is also considering making changes to professions exempt from the ESA.

As part of this ESA review, the OAA has met with the province to discuss the current exemption, OAA president John Stephenson told CBC News.

"We have no objection to it being removed," Stephenson said. "We'd like to see the act changed so all employees benefit from the protection that it provides."

Stephenson said the long unpaid hours he worked early in his career are no longer the norm, but it still happens and removing the ESA exemption would level the playing field.

"Fair and equitable treatment will be the benchmark," he said.

Stephenson agrees with many of the changes proposed by MacDonald, but said the policing needs to be left up to the province and shouldn't be in the hand of the OAA as MacDonald has proposed.


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