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The Chartered Institute for Archaeologist, the body which sets out to set and monitor professional standards in archaeology in Britain and overseas, is facing a crisis of confidence among at least a proportion of its membership after two events which have cast doubt on the organisation’s influence and competence to represent their interests.

First on 26 January [2024] CIfA announced that it had been informed that archaeology would no longer be a recognised trade under the Construction Skills Certification Scheme [CSCS] after 30 April this year.

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This caused immediate confusion and even some alarm among archaeologists working as part of the construction industry on work funded by developers. This was because, while not required by law, holding a valid CSCS card of the correct type is required
by many construction site operators as a condition of coming onto a site to work.

Archaeologists also expressed concern that the lack of clarity about the implications of the changes could lead to individuals and archaeological companies being forced engage in expensive training and qualification to obtain cards which would only
be needed for a matter of months at best. A situation which was made particularly galling because the organisers of the scheme have made it clear there will be no refunds.

More fundamentally members of CIfA and other archaeologists, took to social media to express concern that this represented a downgrading of the role of archaeologists in the construction sector, placing what is almost entirely a graduate entry profession, undertaking project critical work as a condition of planning consent, alongside cleaners, security guards and installers of car parking equipment.

Some even questioned whether, on this ground alone, it was worth continuing to pay for membership of CIfA, when, unlike, for example, nursing, there is no legal requirement to be a member of the chartered organisation in order to work as an archaeologist.

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CIfA responded by stating,

“Although CSCS’ decision sends an unfortunate signal, it does not change the fact that archaeology is an integral part of the construction process which is required in the planning process and delivers positive public benefits as part of a development process.”

CIfA added that the organisation was working with the employers body, the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers [FAME] to clarify the situation, although at the time of publication [27 February 2024], there appears to be no recent clarification of what will precisely be the effect of the change on the websites of either CIfA or FAME.

For its part a statement on the website from FAME CEO Dr Kenneth Aitchison includes the comment that “Everyone is expecting issues.”

Adding to the sense of chaos with archaeological bodies being so much a part of the construction industry that they were completely ignored in the decision making to drop the requirement for staff to carry CSCS cards, a CIfA official told the British Archaeological Jobs Resource FaceBook group, that while CIfA had not been consulted abut the decision to drop archaeology from the scheme, it was given an opportunity to correct the press release, while Dr Aitchison’s statement also suggests that employers body FAME only found out about the change from CIfA!

Current guidance on the CIfA website tells individual members and employers to simply take up the matter with clients on a case by case basis, and in the case of problems employers are told to contact, not CIfA, but CSCS itself.

However, the controversy among CIfA members over the perceived debacle over the CSCS scheme was about to be eclipsed by the reaction to another statement to the organisation’s members, released apparently without any warning, let alone any attempt to prepare the ground.

The first line of the statement said bluntly,

“CIfA is no longer issuing minimum salary recommendations in the UK.”

The statement went on to explain,

“The search for an alternative has been underpinned by the need to be clear about the different roles of a professional body and a trade union regarding issues of low pay, and by our concern that focusing on minimum salaries may detract from the real value of archaeological skills.”

Responding to the statement, members of CIfA active on social media, including on [X]Twitter and on the influential British Archaeological Jobs Resource Facebook group, exploded with indignation.

Among the kinder comments greeting the announcement was the question of why the decision had been made and  announced before the new approach of “benchmarking” was in place?

However, most visible was anger that the main representative body of archaeological professionals appeared to have abandoned any attempt to protect the lowest paid members of what is often perceived by its own practitioners to be a notoriously poorly paid and insecure profession, lacking effective career paths, and with a high turnover of especially early career staff.

There was even a short lived petition calling on the board of CIfA to resign over the handling of the issue.

Meanwhile the archaeology branch of the trade union Prospect issued a statement saying that, while it understood that CIfA had to act within its remit as a professional body,
as far as Prospect was concerned, “nothing had changed”. Committing union staff and members to continuing to work with others in the industry to improve pay and conditions Prospect stated,

“Prospect reps and members would continue to work hard on tackling the difficult financial position many find themselves in, along with continuing our work in other areas such as equality and safety.”

As a trade union Prospect, which claims to have over one thousand four hundred members working in archaeology across some ninety employers, exists to try to influence directly the pay and conditions of its members and a groundswell of opinion on archaeological social media seems to be suggesting that membership of Prospect, or other trade unions which recruit archaeologists such as UNISON, might be more effective than membership of CIfA,
at least as far as pay and conditions are concerned.

One group however appears to have been highly satisfied with CIfA’s new stance.

Dr Kenneth Aitchison CEO of the archaeological employers body FAME took to Twitter to state,

“Big announcement from @InstituteArch – they are no longer issuing #minimum #salary recommendations for #archaeologists in the UK.
It’s the right decision to make, and the Institute had tied itself in knots over this for years.”

In 2023 FAME withdrew from the Archaeological Industry Working Group stating that it had received legal advice that participation in discussions about pay and conditions
could be seen as a breach of UK competition law and represent an intent to pursue illegal price fixing. The organisation also reached a Memorandum of Understanding with CIfA which to critics seemed more like an agreement to differ.

Observing this, some archaeologists viewed the leadership of FAME inserting itself into the discussion and endorsing CIfA’s new position with concern, even suspicion, with one senior archaeologist telling thePipeLine that the relationship between CIfA and FAME has been regarded as too close for years, while another greeted a fresh statement from CIfA on 15 February with the acid question as to whether CIfA had first checked the content of the statement with Dr Aitcheson?

The question was pertinent because the new statement appeared to be a reaction to the hostile reaction to the initial withdrawal from setting pay minima and appeared to commit CIfA to working with its members, Prospect and BAJR, to develop a system of pay benchmarking.

The statement contained also what is possibly the understatement of the archaeological year so far,

“We appreciate that recent announcements regarding the removal of minimum salary recommendations by CIfA may have been met with concern.”

The 15 February statement concluded by summing up CIfA’s wider position on pay in a manner which appeared, to some members at least, as an unduly defensive explanation of why CIfA could not do certain things for its members such as set minimum pay rates.  The statement said,

“We fully understand members’ concerns about the removal of the minimum salary recommendations, but the Board of Directors has a duty to ensure CIfA works within
its remit as a professional body and in accordance with its Charter and by-law. Moving the focus to ranges of pay will provide a more useful tool to help employers and employees
make informed decisions about rates of pay and removes the focus on minimum.”

Adding to the sense that CIfA’s leadership was dealing with an evolving situation, or according to its critics making it up as it went along, this was followed by a yet another statement on 22 February.

This latest statement sets out CIfA’s current position which is summarised in this way,

“Moving the focus away from minimum salaries we will be better able to provide a more useful tool to help employers and employees make informed decisions about rates of pay.
Salary benchmarking will also help to support CIfA and partner organisations to advocate for higher salaries. It will also ensure CIfA works within its remit as a professional body
and in accordance with its Charter and by-law.”

Responding to members citing other chartered bodies such as the Royal College of Nursing, which do engage directly in matters of pay, and asking why CIfA could not behave in a similar way, CIfA added,

“We have received and seen comments about other professional institutes having minimum salary recommendations for their professions so why can’t CIfA do the same.
The majority of these are based on a process of salary benchmarking and are clearly set as guidance and/or information and are in no way required.
The process of salary benchmarking CIfA is working towards will adopt a similar approach and put CIfA in a better position to advocate for better pay and conditions.”

However, even this latest evolution of CIfA’s position seems to have done little to salvage the reputation of the organisation’s management, at least among one influential group of archaeologists.

An administrator on the BAJR FaceBook group summed up the disquiet being expressed towards the performance of the managers at CIfA, telling members of the group,

“Everything has been presented as a fait accompli. There has been a distinct lack of consultation and transparency.
This is a dismissive way to act towards members. It’s another disappointing response.
The hard work that so many have put in to build bridges with CIfA has been severely compromised.”

It remains to be seen whether those bridges can be re-built and how quickly.

Meanwhile, coming on top of being blindsided by the removal of archaeologists from the CSCS scheme, while CIfA may hope that the evolution of its policy towards pay in the archaeology industry will, in the end, satisfy the membership of the organisation that their interests are being properly represented, it is inevitable that some will recall with concern that evolution can also result in a dead end, or even an extinction event.

It probably doesn’t help the optics of the controversy, that while appearing to withdraw from direct involvement in making a clear judgement about what represents low pay in archaeology, in January [2024] CIfA was advertising for a new Chief Executive at a salary of between eighty and one hundred thousand pounds.


Cartoon courtesy of @Mr_Archaeosoup

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thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.

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