Trade union demonstration calling for better working conditions at the opening of the academic year. Photo: DUB

New collective agreement for universities: more permanent jobs, less pressure

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Trade union and university negotiators have provisionally concluded a new collective labour agreement (CAO in the Dutch acronym). Academics and support staff will be offered a permanent contract after one year, salaries will increase by 2 percent and working from home will be facilitated even more.

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Jan Boersma of FNV Education & Research, one of the unions at the negotiating table, describes the outcome as marking a cultural shift from flexible to permanent jobs. “With this deal, we can further reduce the work pressure in our sector. It was about time.”

He expects some 800 academic personnel to move from temporary to permanent jobs in the next six months, and “a multiple” of that in the case of support staff.

Marcel Nollen, a member of the Executive Board at VU Amsterdam and chief negotiator on behalf of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), is also delighted. “Working together, the universities are taking a major step towards creating more permanent jobs for both academic and support staff."

The new agreement (document in Dutch) still has to be considered by the two sides’ respective constituencies. If they approve it in July, it will apply between 1st of January 2021 and March 31, 2022.

In principle, university lecturers, senior lecturers, professors and support staff already employed on a temporary basis will now be entitled to a permanent contract after one year. For newcomers, that period is a year and a half.

Other teaching staff are not covered by the agreement, however. Critics on Twitter therefore fear (link in Dutch) that universities will start appointing more teachers without research duties.

Wages
Wages are also set to increase, in two steps. On July 1 2021, they rise by 1.64 percent across the board, then on January 1, 2022 by a further 0.36 percent. Moreover, everyone employed full-time by a Dutch university on July 1, 2021 is to receive a one-off payment of 650 euros, gross. For part-time workers, the amount is to be adjusted pro rata.

The minimum wage at universities is being raised, too, to 14 euros per hour as of July 1. This means that the six lowest pay scales in the current CAO will be abolished.

The parties to the new agreement expect that people will continue to work at home more often, even once the current Covid-19 restrictions have been eased. They have therefore negotiated arrangements to make this possible, as far as any specific position allows. Universities are to offer employees an internet allowance of 25 euros per month and a home-working allowance of 2 euros per day.

Workload relief
In order to alleviate high workloads, the new CAO states that academics should be given “a realistic remit” with clear agreements on the relationship between their teaching, research, valorisation and other tasks. In particular, they must have sufficient time for education-related research.

In addition, universities will ensure that their staff are allowed sufficient working time to use at their own discretion. “This can be done by, for example, introducing weeks largely free of meetings and/or email, by not scheduling appointments at agreed times of day or by facilitating variety in people’s tasks.”

Final agreements have also been reached about the Vitality Pact scheme. Under this, older employees can reduce their working hours in exchange for surrendering part of their salary, whilst still accruing full pension rights.

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