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Atomik Architecture staff who are balloting to strike
Workers at Atomik Architecture are balloting to strike

Atomik Architecture staff initiate "historic strike ballot" in UK

Staff at the London studio Atomik Architecture are balloting to strike over working conditions, making them the first group of architectural workers in the private sector in the UK to do so, according to their union.

Atomik Architecture workers notified their employers yesterday that they are initiating a strike ballot to demand improvements to both their pay and working conditions.

UK trade union United Voices of the World (UVW), which shared the news this morning, has described it as a "historic strike ballot".

Ballot triggered by cost-of-living crisis

"We believe our members at Atomik are the first ever group of private sector architects to ballot to strike, so if this strike goes ahead it will be an industry first, and one that all architects and members of the movement should get behind," said UVW general secretary Petros Elia.

"I call on Atomik Architecture's bosses to negotiate with us and avoid what could become incredibly operationally and reputationally damaging strike action which will receive the full support of our union. The choice is yours."

The UVW's Section of Architectural Workers (UVW-SAW) added that the move has been triggered by the cost-of-living crisis in the UK, but that it follows two years of uncertainty and "low wage growth" at the studio.

"In June 2022, some workers individually raised the matter of pay in their annual reviews," UVW-SAW said. "When they were ignored, they wrote a collective letter outlining their demands."

The demands include a pay increase of 10 per cent in line with the current rate of inflation, or a seven per cent increase and the introduction of a profit-sharing model.

The workers are also calling for flexible working arrangements and decreased work hours from an eight-hour day to seven hours. Paid training and trade union recognition are also among their requirements.

According to UVW-SAW,  management met with workers earlier this year after receiving the letter calling for improved conditions. However, after their employers "refused to negotiate", employees have now notified them that they are in dispute over conditions, the union said.

Director claims employees received pay rise this year

"During the meeting itself, the directors appeared to fail to understand the serious impact rising living costs were having on workers, and flat out refused to share financial information for the company, both of which left the workers frustrated and distrustful," said UVW-SAW.

Atomik Architecture's directors have declined to comment but told Dezeen that all employees did receive a pay rise earlier this year.

"We only saw the notice to ballot last night and have no further comment at this stage other than, in the interest of context, everyone in the practice received a pay rise of at least seven per cent in June," director Mike Oades told Dezeen.

In a joint statement, Atomik Architecture staff said that the decision to strike was their "last resort" after directors "continuously dismissed and ignored our individual and collective concerns".

"We were expecting to collaborate to improve conditions at the practice but instead, we have had months of empty promises and zero progress," the statement said.

"We have all worked at Atomik for a number of years, but that loyalty has not been reciprocated in meaningful improved pay or working conditions. We have been forced into this position, striking is our last resort."

News "could trigger a wave of strikes"

UVW-SAW representative Jake Arnfield has said the move "could trigger a wave of strikes in architecture this autumn and winter".

"What we are hearing from our membership is that most workers are not getting the pay rises they need," Arnfield said in a statement.

"If you work in architecture, we encourage you to get behind Atomik workers. Their success is part of the movement to raise wages and eliminate rampant exploitation in the sector."

Concerns and disputes over pay and working conditions are not unusual in the architecture field.

Earlier this year, it was reported that some employees of New York-based SHoP Architects had planned to form the US's first union of architecture workers since the 1940s, though organisers later withdrew their petition.

Later in New York, Bernheimer Architecture became the first private-sector architecture studio in the US to unionise after it announced its employees were joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

While Bernheimer Architecture's staff are satisfied with their working conditions, they thought that unionisation could help "reshape the industry at large".

Independent trade-union UVW-SAW was launched in the UK in 2019 to challenge the industry's "toxic culture" of long hours and low pay. At the time, the group told Dezeen that "the architectural sector is in a time of crisis".

"Regular unpaid overtime, stagnating wages, discrimination, harassment, and overwork add to an already toxic culture of stress and competition," its spokesperson said.