Civil Engineer Award (Minimum Work Hours)

I've just had a discussion with my boss regarding work hours and he's told me that I've done 30 minutes less every day than I'm meant to. I've been doing 8 hr days including a 30 minute lunch break (works out to around 38hr weeks). I'm on a yearly salary and am a full time employee.

He has claimed that there's no award for engineers, however I've found this Professional Employees Award which appears to cover engineers (I graduated just under 3 years ago, so probably fall into the Graduate Engineer category).

What I want to know is if I've been in the wrong all this time or what. I've re-read my contract, which states "Standard work week consists of a minimum 40 hours, Monday to Friday", however this seems to include a 1hr lunch break (as that's how long everyone in the office takes for lunch). I'm not sure if I'm in the wrong for misunderstanding this but there's no mention of lunch break lengths or any details of this in my contract.

Advice is appreciated as I don't want to show him that award if it doesn't apply to me for some reason.

EDIT: Loving the advice guys, please keep it coming. :) I realise I probably could be a bit more pro-active and energetic, so I'll try working on that. I still don't really feel like I've done anything wrong with my work hours, but it always helps to be positive hehe.

EDIT2: Cheers for the feedback guys. I know there's definitely pro's to working here, so I'll just try to focus on those rather than dwelling on the lack of work haha. Could be a lot worse I guess. And you've answered my original question about paid lunch breaks, so I guess there's no helping it aha.

EDIT3: Just to clarify - I have no qualms working 45hr weeks if required. What I have an issue with is being asked to stay in the office over 38hrs when I have maybe 15 hours of billable work to do every week. There is NO WORK TO DO. Yes, I will look for a new job when I can, but that doesn't seem smart at the minute given the economic situation of the world. So just trying to figure out whether I suck it up and just sit in my chair for a few extra hours a week, or if I actually tell him that he's not allowed to ask more than 38 unless there's actually work that needs doing.


  • +2

    Hi OP,

    I think you should get used to sitting at your desk for the required hours to make your boss happy. It's nonsensical but unfortunately that is how the world works. I would say a large majority of the workforce is in the same boat as you. Definitely bug him and ask for more work if you're not already.

    Personally I'd look for a new job as it sounds like this company is very small (which can be good or bad (but in this case I'd say bad as you're not getting much work), not allowing you to learn and progress and seems to be low paying. I agree that you should probably hold out for a few months while we see the impact of COVID, but if your desperate just take a chance.

    Lastly, if you're stuck and can only find site jobs, don't be afraid of site engineering. It's very demanding but you'll have fun, learn a lot and get paid considerably more than where you're at. It's not for everyone, but it can open doors and teach you some good skills.

    • To be honest, it's been a great learning experience (I can take my time learning stuff, do a good job rather than rush stuff out the door etc), however I tend to agree with you. Hopefully bugging him for work will make him back off on the hours a bit, so I'll go back to that (I did it for a while when I first started but stopped pretty fast aha).

      Does site engineering have much in the way of career progression? I've liked this job because I feel like I've been exposed to a lot of stuff graduates wouldn't usually get to do which will help in future. Is there much of that with site engineering?

      • Site Engineering has huge progression.

        In terms of overall career progression it would look something like this:
        Graduate > Site Eng > Project Eng > Senior Project Eng > Area Manager > Construction Manager > Project Manager > Project Director. That would probably take you 20 years to get there and that's only looking the structure on a Tier 1 Project.
        Then you can get into office work, estimating/tendering, other commercial aspects. Depends on the company of course but there is a massive amount of potential progression. A lot of people get halfway up the chain, find they're happy doing that, and stay there.

        In terms of getting exposure to aspects that are beyond your level, that will really depend on who you're working under, but generally people will get you to do the highest level of work that you're able to perform, as generally they're time poor and need the assistance.

        I'm not trying to steer you into site engineering, if you're enjoying what you're doing then continue down your path. I am saying don't totally rule it out if it interests you, because there are a lot of benefits.

  • +1

    Can you use the "spare" time to learn new skills, whether through online courses or youtube tutorials? Eg, learn how to use Autocad, Revit, Sketchup, Photoshop. Improve your productivity, presentation, communication, organisation skills.

    • I did enquire about doing some EA courses, so maybe will get somewhere with that. :) As far as Autocad (we don't use the others) I've been experimenting with stuff for a long time and know the software pretty well but have never actually done any courses. Maybe I'll see what's around.

  • Some people are without jobs and here we have you complaining that you must sit at your workplace when there's nothing to do…
    Can I have your job please?

    • You had go the University to study Engineering. It's not easy you know…

    • Looks like being on ozbargain is part of his job too.

      • +1

        Shhh ;)

    • Haha, fair point! I do admit I have a lot to be thankful for. ;)

  • The best advice is to look around you and see how much work everyone else is doing. Work can't be measured purely on time, we think about it during other parts of the day and reply to emails whenever possible. Gather what general vibe your company emits if they're really concerned about hours at the desk or happy with super flexible hours where breaks will promote more efficiency and get better work out of you. I'm lucky to work at a company where if baking a cake, going for a run or playing some computer games will help you get back on track, they advise me go do that so when I come back I'll be wanting to dive into work again. Having the drive to commit to work is important and that's why I work here.

    • Yeah, I honestly felt like this company has been like that, however the last few months my boss has started to seem really grouchy about it. I think he almost feels like people are trying to rip him off / get out of doing work? It's hard because he won't really express himself in general (and I get the vibe he's been building up to this for a few months now).

      • It is a stressful time for small business owners and employees are copping it in general imo.

        • Yeah definitely, and I can't really blame him for being stressed about it. It doesn't justify taking it out on employees, but I guess it's helpful to keep in mind.

          • +1

            @jakem742: To be honest, he is likely just on edge regarding income and the health of his business. This, in turn, could make him more sensitive and aware of his employees and the value that they bring him. I know that when I am having a hard time, it is easy for me to think that other people don't have it as bad, whether or not that thought is rational.

            With that said - and in line with what some others have mentioned - you definitely have enough time to demonstrate your value. You work for a small business and your boss is more likely to see the good work you're doing.

  • Considering he's giving you a warning and he's not just denying something out of pettiness, you should be sitting at your desk for the required hours. The ordinary hours of work under Fair Work do not mean you can't work more than 38 or that a contract cannot request it, and you have an obligation to fulfill your contract. You could spend the time on personal development or helping someone else who needs help.

    He's a wet fish for bringing it up after three years, but a contract is a contract, and 30 minutes early is a significant amount. I personally can't stand people who knock off early when it affects me a month down the line.

    • I get that when it affects other people / there's work to do you just stay until it's all done. I'm literally just sitting around most of the week with no work (plenty of people have made good suggestions which I'm thankful for and will pursue) and I guess it bothered me that he's accusing me of not working enough? I realise that I've probably misunderstood the contract (I assumed 40hr week meant 40 hrs including 30 minutes for lunch), but it seems crazy that it's taken all of this time for him to raise it as an issue considering I feel like I've put in effort with all my work.

  • Why not call you union, Professionals Australia (formerly APESMA)?

    • +1

      If you are unsure about your pay or contract I would also suggest joining Professionals Australia, their legal peope do contract reviews and they also do the salary surveys for engineers + reports.
      Definitely worth the yearly fee (claim it on your tax)

  • +1

    Lots of people here are giving their opinions having no idea how toxic the building industry is for engineers.

    Doing 10+ hour days is considered to be the bare minimum in the industry or people will (unfairly) consider you to be taking the piss. At the last place I worked the civil guys were in and settled before me (I got in at 8am), would have lunch at their desks and wouldn’t leave until about 6pm every single day.

    This is because of the cutthroat times they attach to their tenders to outcompete other firms, as well as bonuses involved if you deliver early. Every single day is a rush to beat arbitrary deadlines and the amount of complete burn out that people experience is insane.

    This doesn’t change if you’re in smaller firms or some of the largest in the country (NDY, AECOM etc). The closest it can be compared to is last minute consulting work at EY or KPMG.

    His manager is upset he’s not following the norms of overworking to exhaustion every day. It’s a shit industry.

    • Yeah that's the sorry state of engineering, I'm a mech eng and most places I've worked have been the same.
      Especially bad at a smaller company as if you aren't there doing the work there won't be anyone else to pick up the slack.

      We don't have unions but there is prof Aus which I recommend joining. Most states will require registration soon and it's cheaper to go through PA then EA.
      I've also found in the past EA won't offer help for contracts or conditions, recently rejoined and they seem to be mainly focussed on getting you to buy their courses and/or pay them to become chartered

      • Yeah honestly, EA should be acting as a union but are more focused on handing out chartership to anyone and everyone as long as it lines their pockets. Every man and his dog has chartership. Personally some of the chartered engineers that i've seen operate don't really fill me with confidence.

  • +3

    You have a problem staying 38 or 40 hours when you only have 15 billable hours? Then speak to your boss and ask to be paid 15 hours a week. Problem solved. Normally this would be an issue with career progression, but given the current climate you're lucky you're still employed on your full salary.

    • +2

      To be honest this is probably the most professional approach he could take. Set up a company, tell them to let you go and rehire you as a contractor.
      You'll need to hustle to get the other hours you need but at least your brain wont be rotting + you will get more experience contracting to other companies the rest of the week

      • We had a contractor working here who got retrenched due to Covid. I doubt it would go much better for me haha. Still, it does look like a nice way to operate (although I guess the risk of losing your job is much higher). No jobkeeper for a contractor?

  • +2

    Work out which pay point you should be at (If you are accredited with EA or what ever PA is calling themselves this month you are level 2).

    If you are being paid less than that, your boss is stealing from you.

    If you are paid exactly that, if your boss wants you to work more than 38 hours a week they are stealing from you.

    If not, follow your contract. You are paid above award!

    Bad news is:

    Either you or your boss sucks at their job.

    A good boss will not chase up 2.5 hours with a good, productive team member. It is not risk burning them and paying 2x their salary to find a new person.

    Good news is that you are still wanted as you were not given a written warning (these are never a disciplinary action, they are a tool to legally fire you).

  • Typical office politics says it's not actually about your work or your hours, but someone or people there don't like you for some reason and decided to make a complaint.

    Or yeah, they are a shit boss :P

  • My first civil role (small consultancy of about 20 engineers) required a billable timesheet submitted at the end of the week. Only 1 -2 hours of that week would be tolerated as "admin" (cost to company) so it's bizarre how you're getting away with only working 15hr and getting payed 38?!

    From what you have already posted, it sounds like you are the green engineer in the team doing the cad work and I'm guessing that you're the only one who is proficient at CAD…which is possibly why they havn't let you go yet.

    You could have an honest talk with your boss about the work situation. Though if there is no work coming in (are the other engineers busy?) this may be detrimental in terms of your future time with the company.

    It would reflect well if you take some initiative and develop something for the organisation (Standard drawing templates, excel calc sheets, forms, logo?, etc). This may extend your employment a little and provide some time to look for another position elsewhere.

  • +1

    After 3 years of experience you don't fall into the "graduate" category for jobs. That's pretty much for 0-1 years. Don't sell yourself short in your next job and go for a higher than grad level role. I wouldn't worry too much about the distinction between graduate and professional engineer that is made in the award you linked.

    • Seriously? Thanks for that. :) I honestly expected to still be in that category. I'll definitely be looking for an upgrade in the next job aha.

  • Only bad staff think there isn't work to be done.

    The first thing i was told as a bright young 16yo upstart was always do something, doesn't have to be part of your job role.

    • Tidy up the office
    • Clean out the work fridge
    • Paperwork filing
    • Update company electronic database
    • Liase with marketing to try advertise for some more work (marketing doesn't have the technical knowledge you have to target the correct clientele)
    • Do some maintenance (or organise it), that computer desk drawer that's been missing a screw for years? fix it.
    • Make sure the new company ute is insured

    Could go on forever.

    • Are you calling me bad? :P

      I'm not saying there's nothing I can do, simply that it feels ridiculous to be asked to work "extra" in order to do chores like cleaning the fridge aha. I get tired of spending 15+ hrs every week cleaning/creating new stuff. I might just look for a new job, but for now FilePeter's advice below is what I think I'll do.

      • Ok maybe not bad, but just the standard disposable mundane employee.

        What is the business lacking? use your 25 free hours a week and fix it.

        Might come with a big raise (might not).

        Also improves your overall skill and mindset.

  • +3

    Boomers love bums in seats, anyone not adhering is deemed lazy, ungrateful etc. Your actual output will have very little to change this view.

    Start taking at least an hour for lunch. Get to work a little early and leave a bit later. What you actually do at your desk is almost irrelevant. I work on my side projects, often take 1.5hrs for lunch, but my face is usually one of the first seen in the morning and last seen at night. 'Earn' the rep of a hard working person who goes above and beyond and your flexibility and camaraderie will improve immeasurably.

    Like it or not, office politics are a big deal. Perception is everything. Right now your perception is that you want to do the bare minimum.

    Swallow your pride, tell your boss he is right and you want to change. Then do as I said above. Use the extra time to progress your career via training if that's your goal, of not become a Reddit poweruser.

    • This is awesome. :D Thanks for the advice, I think this is exactly what I need to do tbh. I've kinda been very technical in my mindset (ie. as long as I do the same number of working hours as everyone else, it doesn't matter how long I'm in the office), and I think that's where I've gone wrong.

      I hate the idea of just sitting around (I've spent so many hours making templates it's not funny; I've even gone so far as to make my own piece of software in Visual Studio to pass the time). But I'm just going to have to do it just to make the boss happy.

      I might still look for another job that's a bit more fast paced, but I'd definitely prefer to leave my current job on good terms in the event that I hate the fast-paced work style and want to return. :D

  • Looking at your post. I don't think you understand the industry.

    Civil eningeering is full of jobs with heaps of unpaid overtime. Its rife look in newspapers.

    Big companies generally want employees to do 45-60 hours in their salary if your on a project.

    Design consultants do about 40-50 hours and have to make a return.

    Only place you will find a job between 38-40 hours is govt strictly speaking.

    I was like you when I first started…no one in uni tells you life is tough in civil eningeering. Had a lot of confrontation with my boss in my first job as their expectations and mine are different. You will need to change your mind set or change jobs. Govt is where you should go if you want the stated 38-40 week.

  • Work week conditions for me has never included lunch break.

    35 hour week was work hours plus whatever lunch I wanted on my own time (anywhere between 30m-120m).
    Even on 40 hours it was plus lunch break (8.00-16.30 including 30 minutes lunch). The only paid break was 12 minutes morning tea which you ignored because nobody complained when you went for a poo on company time.

  • When you finish work, are you asking for more? Are you asking if you can help on other aspects of other projects? Finding out software tutorials to upskill for your employer to be able to get more work? Would they let you hit the phones to chase up work with clients? Sounds like your boss is giving you advice about your attitude rather than just the number of hours you’re doing.

  • Work hours do not include lunch breaks. Your contract says 40 hours of work time.
    Take whatever length lunch break you want - it makes no difference to your work hours.

  • Civ eng here for 10+ years - Work hours are 7.6 hours per day = 38 hour week. Not including lunch. Typically work 7:30 to 4:30 and occasionally weekends/late nights but like suggestions above you need to spend more of your day working on your office politics. Have a talk with colleagues, get them to show you how to do things if they arent busy, etc. You need to appear active and engaged in the industry/business to survive. Clock watching is highly disliked in private engineering - go to work for the council or government if thats what you want to do, but enjoy the paycut. Not cut-throat but also its not the only industry that works like this - refer to accounting, law/legal, etc. Most white collar professional careers have you burning more hours than people will admit to.

    You will probably find that in the 1 hour before you start, there are team members who are going out for coffee or the like. Yes they arent doing work at their desk but they give you the best team bonding and lets you understand how others can fix your issues or you

    Best suggestions here are to ask others if they need help with anything. Particularly the manager who has approached you. Usually there has been a complaint within the team to him, and for him to approach you it probably has come from more than one person. Work on your CPEng, improve software skills - even ask for external training for this. Improves you as an employee and keeps your CV looking good to any future employers.

Login or Join to leave a comment