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					1 IFA AGM 2004: Archaeological Pay and Conditions debate

Archaeological Pay & Conditions: the Digger’s Perspective
Chris Clarke, IFA Council and Diggers’ Forum

Excavators. Diggers. Shovel monkeys. Lackeys. By any name you want to call them they comprise the same group of people. They are the foundations that any excavation is built upon, and they are the ones who do the hardest of the physical labour. Archaeology is a hard business, but diggers often suffer greater hardships than most due to their career position and inexperience due to recent induction into the archaeological arena. What I want to communicate are the views I have collected of archaeology as a profession, both mine and those of others I have worked with since I graduated four years ago. To try and express a common experience of the harsh realities of pay and conditions that confronts many on a day-to-day basis. To many here it may sound like an extremely familiar tale, although hopefully for some it will be an enlighting experience. Talk to any digger at the sharp end of it all, and the first issue they’ll raise is that of pay, with strong grounds to do so. Graduate archaeologists, even those with master degrees, can expect on entry to the industry little more than £12,500. Maybe slightly more for those working in London. Hardly a fair comparison in reality. Eagerness and passion for the job can only count for so much before reality kicks in, and new diggers realise it is not an industry that they’ll make their millions in. For once you subtract rent, food, travel and the price of a couple of pints down the Dog and Duck on a Friday night, you don’t often come home with more than a handful change. And then this won’t last long once a few little extras are brought on top. This doesn’t only leave diggers lacking strong finances in the short term, but the middle to long term also begins to look very hazy as well. By not being able to save money in the short term have serious consequences on those expecting standard things out of life, and a career, that most other people aspire to. This includes things such as mortgages, pensions and exotic holidays. In fact the picture can get murkier as many new diggers have substantial student loans hanging around their necks, in addition to any other debts collected along the way. All of which will need to be paid off at some point. The prospects don’t often look that better if you hang around hoping for a promotion, as the financial increase between grades is usually limited. With any upgrade in pay finding itself spent even before it’s received. Diggers will often go to extreme measures to save money. Many others unfamiliar to the industry would view as miserly, but diggers see as necessary. I have known diggers camp out in gardens and sleep on friend’s sofas, all to save money. More usual is house sharing in the cheaper areas of town, associated with a diet of Tesco economy beans and bolognaise. It should never be underestimated the lengths diggers will go to save money. Money will often be a key factor if any digger decides to stick with the job for longer than a year or two. Once diggers come to terms with small budgets and learn to make the most of what they have, they then have to come to terms with the uncertainties of the employment market. For you will often sign your life away on short term rolling contracts, often 3 to 6 months in duration. But it is not

2 unheard of to be continually working on a weeks notice. Situations where the spectre of unemployment is always looming above you. It is an extremely lucky, or extremely skilled, digger who lands themselves a permanent contract. From this situation has developed a phenomenon known as ‘doing the circuit’ jumping from one short-term contract to another. Being laid off and then hunting down the next unit looking to hire. This type of life style can be extremely fun, as you get to travel around the country, meeting new friends, having a laugh, and have few commitments to tie you down and spoil the fun. But the fun lasts only for so long. Soon the novelty wares off and you realise at some point you do want to settle down, you don’t want to be travelling around random parts of the country, and that you want a job you can rely on lasting for more than 6 months. But trapped within this cycle it is often difficult to breakout, you hope the next job has some more long-term prospect, even an elusive promotion to a more fixed position. Often short-term contracts have other influences while in the job, affecting the conditions and benefits you are likely to receive. Holiday allowance, sick pay, redundancy contributions are all minimal, and it is rare to encounter company pension schemes, or support for childcare. Most critically training is a lottery, with units often encouraging training of short-term staff only where necessary, or where critical gaps in the companies skills set have appeared. You are most likely to receive informal on the job training, shadowing a more experience staff member in their duties. Training is a critical part of any career allowing you to expand your skills, so becoming a more attractive employee when job hunting. Most of all it makes you a better archaeologists. Ultimately you may even be able to find a speciality or a management role and retire to a slightly warmer office. Without training individuals lose out. But the industry losses out as a whole, as the majority of the work force have a static skills base, preventing the industry developing as a single entity. While putting up with that you still cannot overlook the other more regular aspects of the job, such as always struggling with jobs on tight deadlines, exhausting yourself in the progress. In combination with working through all weathers and environments, wading through anything from mud to flooded basements. Through all this the continual physical exertion takes its toll on the human body, resulting in few archaeologists escaping with arthritis, bad backs or dodgy knees. Eventually ageing before their time. The picture painted here is one of doom and gloom, but it does not need to be so. For it is my view, and the view of other bodies such as the IFA and Prospect, that these experiences should become the exception and not the rule. Diggers should be allowed to enter into an industry where there are prospects of decent pay, a valid career path, job security, and suitable training. Initiatives such as the IFA occupational standards and minimum wage guidelines, along with Prospects national pay bargaining scheme are all taking steps to try and improve the situation. One new idea in the progress of getting off the ground is the establishment of an IFA Diggers Forum (successfully launched on 15 October). A place in which diggers can have a voice to express their opinions, and rather than have ideas fade away as often occurs with rants down the pub, have a means to constructively act on those ideas and implement change. But change is a two way street. Many people can assist on behalf of the countries diggers, but until more diggers become involved with the industry within which they

3 work, then progress will be slow. If all the diggers were to be involved tomorrow, then change could happen overnight. Diggers need to take reasonability and stand up for what they want to happen. However, as archaeology progresses as an industry, for those diggers at its core making everything happen on the ground, pay and conditions will always be at the forefront of their concerns. Chris Clarke

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