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In February a row broke out within the UK’s principle membership body for archaeologists, the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists [CIfA], when it was announced without warning or consultation that CIfA’s board had taken the unilateral decision to stop issuing recommended minimum rates of pay for a sector which is notorious for its poor pay and job insecurity.

Now, as hundreds of CIfA members gather in Chester for the Institute’s annual conference, along with important discussions relating to research, ethics and professional practice, there will be another subject which is guaranteed to be raised in the coffee
breaks and over lunch because this is the first significant in person event since an extraordinary remote Extraordinary General Meeting of CIfA’s members earlier this month.

In its February announcement the CIfA board stated that it wanted to move towards a system of pay benchmarking claiming also that it had to act now because the Institute faced legal risk if it continued to offer recommended pay minimums as that could be seen as operating as a cartel within the archaeological industry and that would be illegal under competition law.

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That decision was met with fury from many CIfA members, with vociferous complaints that the sector’s main professional body was abandoning the industry’s lowest paid members to the harsh winds of the market place without any form of consultation or discussion of the potential consequences.

There was even a briefly an online petition to demanding that the CIfA management to step down.

Seemingly wrong footed by the strength of the push back from its own membership over the lack of consultation, and complaints that the way the decision had been communicated was at best lamentable, the CIfA board were forced to concede an Extraordinary General Meeting, which was held on the evening of 8th of April [2024].

Two resolutions were offered up to be voted on by CIfA members.

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Resolution 1 was moved by the Board which claimed the resolution was framed on the basis of unquoted legal advice. The text set out a programme of work which the CIfA Board said it felt was appropriate for a professional institute, and which the board believed
would be most helpful to CIfA and sector partners in addressing the issue of low pay in UK archaeology. That work would be the issuing of annual salary benchmarking reports and to use that information to influence improvements in pay in line with CIfA’s remit as a professional institute.

Resolution 2 came from CIfA members and was more specific in its objective of increasing sector pay. The motion called on the Board to continue to produce annually, as a core function of CIfA, salary “guidance” for each of the organisation’s three membership levels and to create and maintain a five-year plan with the goal of increasing the salaries of UK archaeologists in real terms.

Anyone who follows politics will be familiar with the concept of a composite motion, a mash up of different motions relating to the same subject which is carefully crafted to try to please, and attract the votes of, as wide a constituency as possible. It is a common way of dealing with contentious subjects at political and trade union conferences, but in spite of the apparently contradictory elements of the two motions, CIfA’s officers seem to have made no attempt to create a composite motion, either before, or during the three hour meeting, and the failure to do so has left the organisation with a substantial headache.

Anyone who has seen the film Dr Doolittle will remember the remarkable creature called the Pushme-Pullyou. That is a kind of Llama with a head at either end of its body and effectively that what CIFA ended up with at the end of the meeting, because members passed both resolutions.

Resolution One from the board, hedged around with caveats about risk and what approach was appropriate for a professional institute, which promised only to seek to influence improvements in pay and conditions and Resolution Two which required annual benchmarks and a five year plan of action to actually increase pay in real terms [that is above the rate of inflation].

Attempting to reconcile this situation an email to members seen by thePipeLine the CIfA board promises,

“In view of the result of the EGM, and as explained during the debate, the Board will need to discuss the ramifications of the approval of both resolutions. This will involve a review of the current legal advice and, where necessary, further advice, on how to implement the spirit of both resolutions and other suggestions for improvements, while managing the risks to the Institute, its members, and directors.”

As set out in the Board’s resolution those discussions will also need to take into account the views of other industry bodies, in particular the Federation of Archaeological Managers
and Employers, the members of which employ many of CIfA’s registered archaeologists and which was quick to welcome CIfA’s initial retreat from setting anything to do with pay and conditions.

FAME had already adopted this stance withdrawing from an industry wide working group, of which CIfA remains a member for now, citing also legal advice that to remain within the Working Group was to risk being seen as part of an illegal cartel.

However, some CIfA members have accused their own body of being too close to FAME and its perceived agenda of not wanting to antagonise clients in commercial development by increasing their costs, some even going so far as suggesting CIfA’s action was clearing the way for less scrupulous members of FAME to undercut each other to gain contracts at the expense of the pay of their staff in an already badly paid profession.

CIfA members or not [unlike protected professions like medicine you do not have to be a CIfA member to work as a professional archaeologist in the UK] professional archaeologists, are now faced with a situation where their discussions over their future pay and working conditions are bound up in factional sector politics, not least what the representative bodies archaeologists and their employers join perceive to be their role, on legal advice which is quoted, but which has not been shared with those it most impacts, and where there are for those reasons no easy solutions to be had.

Whether the Pushme-Pullyou resolutions voted for by CIfA members take the sector any closer to an outcome anytime soon remains to be seen.

However, what the events of the last few months seem to show conclusively is that this time round CIfA members will not tolerate a solution of any kind being imposed on them without discussion, and a democratic buy in from the membership.




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

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