The Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) has opened a window for consultation with its members on Recommended Minimum Salaries. If you are a member, you will have had an email about this. It is a very short window (the closing date is 9th November). The consultation response will inform Council's decision-making on this issue. I urge you to respond, because this is a very serious issue for all of us.
The IfA has suggested several options for the Recommended Minimum Salaries. Option 1 is no increase; Options 2-6 are increases of various levels. I actually disagree with all of these options, and this is why.
In my view the IfA should not even be in the business of setting salary levels. The IfA is a Professional Institute, it is not a trade union nor an employers' federation. By recommending salaries it runs the risk of bringing itself into disrepute through being seen to support a 'cartel' of its Registered Organisations (ROs). Salary levels should be the subject of discussions between trade unions and employers' federations (in our case that effectively means Prospect and FAME).
Other professional bodies have abandoned setting minimum salaries. RICS makes it clear that individuals are on their own when negotiating salaries with prospective employers. RIBA has an 'indicative salary' scheme for students only.
Following on from this, I fear that the IfA's continuing involvement in recommending salary levels may endanger its application to the Privy Council for Chartered Status. Chartership for the IfA is something which I wholeheartedly endorse, as in the long run it will be of much greater benefit to the profession as a whole than tinkering with salaries. I am concerned that setting minimum salaries may prejudice how the Privy Council will view the IfA's application.
Regrettably the IfA is not proposing to end the practice of recommending minimum salaries.
My greatest worry, in the present economic situation, is that many ROs could not actually afford to pay higher salaries. In fact perhaps the majority of ROs - of all sizes - are in this position. The economic downturn is severe and prolonged, and it has seriously eroded any reserves which archaeological organisations may have built up before 2008. Many ROs may feel that a wage rise is unrealistic at this time, and, by being tied to IfA salary minima they lack the flexibility to make adjustments which are necessary for real-world survival. Indeed, in the present circumstances some employers may wish to temporarily reduce salary levels below IfA minima in order to ensure that they survive in the short term. Such solutions are actually acceptable to employees, who regard it as better to have a job at a lower salary than no job at all.
An increase in the IfA recommended minimum salaries in 2012-13 is likely to mean that some archaeological organisations will have to chose between remaining an RO or staying in business.
(Also, increases in the IfA recommended minima have in the past caused concern for archaeologists in the public sector, where pay might be frozen or reduced, and where there isn't the flexibility for wage maneouvre across a whole local authority).
Increasing salaries at this time may cause firms to close, and levels of archaeological employment will therefore reduce even further. It also limits the flexibility of organisations to offer jobs to new entrants, a situation recently seen in the legal profession.
The RO scheme is an excellent system for maintaining professional standards in the broadest sense. Increasing pay minima is likely to endanger the scheme. The withdrawal of significant and influential ROs from the scheme is one probable short-term consequence of an increase in the recommended salary minima. In addition there may be pressure on individual employees within ROs (or former ROs) to leave the IfA, as their individual acceptance of the Code of Conduct would be incompatible with the adjusted wages policy for these firms.
I think that salaries in the historic environment professions are too low. However setting and increasing salary minima by the IfA is absolutely not the way to go about changing this. The consequence of this is potentially the collapse of the RO scheme, loss of IfA members, loss of credibility for the wider profession and perhaps even the end of the road to Chartership.
By abandoning wage-setting and focusing on the broader strategic objective of improving professional standards, the IfA will attract members, retain the integrity of the RO scheme and gain Chartered status for the profession. That is the only sustainable way to improve salaries in the long term.
[Please note that these are entirely my own opinions and not those of any of the organisations with which I am associated].