National organising meeting
Fighting Casualisation in Dutch Universities - a national organising meeting.
Friday 21 May 2021, 15.00 – 16.30
Casualisation is rife in Dutch universities. Early career academics are hired on temporary contracts, often without any research time or prospects to be made permanent, despite the roles we fill being structural needs of our respective institutions.
Laws written to protect our rights - which limit the length of time institutions can keep us in short term employment - are used instead to dismiss us and replace us.
We are stuck in a cycle of insecurity without the necessary time or resources to research, write and publish. That is to say, the very resources needed if we hope to obtain ever elusive permanent positions.
However, we are fighting back.
At Leiden University, a new campaign has been launched - Casual Leiden - to demand an end to bogus temporary contacts. At Utrecht University, a new union - 0.7 - was set up to do the same. Across the country, people are refusing business as usual and getting organised.
If our opposition is going to be effective, it needs to be organised. This is why activists from Leiden, Utrecht, and Maastricht got together and called for a national organising meeting.
Action groups, institutions, platforms and university affiliations present at this meeting
Casual Leiden, Action Group 0.7, members of the AOB, non-affiliated university employees
University employees (with temporary and permanent contracts) working at Universiteit Utrecht, Universteit van Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Universiteit Groningen, Universiteit Leiden, Universiteit Maastricht, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
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initiatives and institutions mentioned during this meeting
WOinActie, PostdocNL, promovendi network nederland, NWO (national dutch science foundation), VSNU (association of universities in the Netherlands), AOB (union, algemene onderwijsbond), “Ombudspersoon”, WOinActie
plans after this meeting
- COLLABORATE participants expressed interest to collaborate on future initiatives
- ORGANISE organisers of this meeting will email university contact persons (who volunteered during the meeting) to set up one pre-summer meeting to decide on next steps regarding national actions on fighting casualisation (questions? Email email@example.com). Potentially, this could be 11 June (in advance of the meeting on ‘career development’ by Casual Leiden)
- EDUCATE both 0.7 and Casual Leiden have plans for a course/series of public events (next academic year) about the structure of the university, can we join forces and share events at all universities? Idea of Casual Leiden is to have a series of public events, for example, on the topic of labour casualisation, neo-liberalisation in Higher Education, screening of documentary about the Maagdenhuis occupation, etc. This will help staff and students to come together and mobilise around these issues and exchange ideas. Idea of 0.7: a national university course about neo-liberalisation/racism/sexism in the university.
- JOIN Casual Leiden invites everyone to join the 11 June 2021 “career development” meeting (15.00 TBC), to gather ideas about what demands temporary staff could make regarding career prospects (and how).
Points of advice to fight casualisation mentioned during this meeting:
- Talk about fixed term contracts everywhere and anytime you can! Fixed-term contracts relate to every other important issue on the university agenda: the quality of teaching, future of academia, diversity, work pressure, etc.
- Form coalitions with temporary and permanent staff.
- Make allies among the faculty council members, the university council members and HR.
- Join a union.
- Inform yourself about your legal rights and about your contract (for example through the union).
- Embrace pluralism in levels of action. Action can take place on a national level, focusing on the ministry (WOinActie, AoB), but also on a local level, focusing on university management, CVB’s and faculty management.
- Inform each other so we can act in union/simultaneously – together we are a force.
Detailed minutes of the 21 May 2021 meeting
More elaborate minutes to the 21 May 2021 meeting
presentation of Casual Leiden (University of Leiden)
Platform for fighting against casualisation and structural overwork, fighting for better career prospects for university staff, helping employees to understanding their labour rights. Casual Leiden launched a survey to inquire about temporary contracts and overwork (in development). See: www. https://sites.google.com/view/casualleiden/home
contact: casualleiden, firstname.lastname@example.org
presentation by a staff member from Utrecht University
In the period 2013-now, fixed-term contracts have become more visible/more on the agenda of the university.
- Small fixed term contracts can be a springboard, but it can also be a trap. You will probably get boned out and will not have time to work on research proposals. In most cases, small temporary teaching jobs lead to more small temporary teaching jobs.
- Even a Cum Laude PhD degree will not guarantee your university will give you a “VENI imbeddings-garantie.”
- Talk about fixed term contracts everywhere you can! Fixed-term contracts relate to every other important issue on the agenda: the quality of teaching, future of academia, diversity, work pressure, etc.
- In Utrecht, in 2014, a group of temporary staff sent a letter about their situation, drawing attention to the issue. We kept on hammering on this problem. Don’t overestimate the degree to which tenured staff genuinely recognize the gravity of the issue. Insecurity, quality of teaching, more work pressure for tenured staff, university using the position of the most vulnerable staff members to protect the position of those with permanent jobs. Universities keep a very large group of people on temporary contracts (de “tijdelijke schil”, flexible layer), thus making sure that when student numbers go down, staff will not pose a liability to the university. It’s not an evil conspiracy, it’s with the best intentions. But this is unjust.
- It’s not only about explaining the situation, but also about volume/number/time. Repeat yourself over and over again to the same people.
- Form coalitions with temporary and permanent staff.
- HR is a relevant party in this process. They are often utterly unaware of what it is like to be employed as an academic on a temporary contract. Make them part of the conversation too. HR ought to be on our side, we have a common cause. It’s in everybody’s interest that the university has enough continuity. Observation from temporary teaching assistant: It can generate tension when you bring up HR with your line manager, who is also the person evaluating your contract. Answer: Difficult, in any case, be transparent about what you are doing.
- Make allies among the faculty council members, the university council members
temporary researcher in Amsterdam
Is there any official document that lists the requirements to become a permanent staff member? Is there any law, any collective labour agreement? Should we rally for such a document, for example through having a voice in “medezeggenshap” (temporary staff is legally allowed to enter)?
Points by AOB representatives
- Flexibilization is widespread throughout the Dutch labour market. General law allows giving people permanent contracts.* If work is structural (like teaching), if it’s ongoing labour, it should preferably be done by people with permanent contracts. Universities are one of the sectors with most temporary contracts. We have been addressing this issue for over ten years. Some improvements in 2015: agreement of max. 22% temporary contracts in Dutch universities for people that are involved in teaching activities. We continue our lobby with the government and with the ministry. “Naming and shaming” is important. The general impression should be: “it is just not done to treat your employees like that.” Get organised. Power and number. WOinActie, PostdocNL.
*CAO Dutch Universities, article 2.2.“The employment contract shall be entered into for either a specified or an unspecified period. In principle, the employment contract shall be concluded for an unspecified period of time, unless a temporary employment contract is considered to be necessary.”
- Indeed there often seems to be a lack of information about labour issues for new employees.
- AOB ran a webinar on “getting to know your contract” in Leiden, we could do this again in the future, please email email@example.com
- AOB tries to make new agreements with employers, how to get permanent contracts sooner (these negotiations are going on right now). https://www.aob.nl/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Cao-special-wetenschappelijk-onderwijs-2020.pdf
- Members of the union will get legal advice, email firstname.lastname@example.org for AOB legal advice
Presentation by union action group 0.7 (now at Utrecht University & Radboud Nijmegen)
https://zeropointseven.nl, https://twitter.com/0pointseven, email@example.com
Representative shares the manifesto to participants (+- 8 month old initiative). The name 0.7 refers to the full time work we do for 70% pay. We think working conditions in universities are exploitative. We want immediate improvement. We focus on worker’s rights, no unpaid overwork, research time, career development, social safety, inclusivity/diversity/accessibility. In all of these aspects universities are currently failing.
- we try to be visible or part of all the relevant councils. Building up a network.
- people are scared to speak up, scared to be known as a difficult person, we should be aware of this. Collective action is important.
- contact 0.7 if you want to share your stories about things that are going wrong, we plan to collect stories, you can contact us. Important to make this visible.
- idea of setting up a national course “fighting against the university” (neo-liberalization, sexism, racism in the university)
Remarks by Casual Leiden members:
- The problems we are discussing are pretty well-researched, well-known and well-documented. Important we continue telling the story, in different venues. Many op-eds everywhere, from very personal to very analytic. We have to keep telling the story. It’s necessary to keep this awareness with our permanent colleagues.
- Political parties are not very well informed about the problem of temporary contracts in the university (perhaps only D66 a little bit). Planning to do more outreach to political parties and try to gain more media attention. Make some noise. People think when you are in academia you have a well-paid position and have a comfortable life.
Junior teaching fellow at University College
Q: So much turnover of temporary colleagues (we are often employed for only 1 year). Where can find resources? Answer by 0.7: We have to make this visible, immediately when you enter the university. Can we attend the “welcome to university” meetings? How will people know about the union?
Casual Leiden: allies with permanent contracts are really important to speak on behalf of temporary contracts. Explain why you need them.
Temporary staff members in Groningen and Leiden
both members describe and ask questions about the issue of lawsuits against the university
- Casual Leiden is supporting a temporary teacher who filed a lawsuit
- Members of the union will be offered legal advice, email firstname.lastname@example.org for AOB legal advice
- Consider your options before you begin: do you have the stamina to be in a lawsuit?
Assistant professor at the University of Groningen
- In Groningen we decided not to start a new entity, but we chose to revitalise the union. They have the knowledge, expertise and time to do these things.
Remarks by Casual Leiden members:
- Join unions indeed! While the unions are doing their good work, you can also organise on the level of your program, and you can also organise in a more activist way. Unions have a long-term strategy, with incremental changes on the most fundamental level, law and labour collective labour agreement. But we also want some quick changes, for example, on the local level, how is the labour law interpreted by our program, or by our faculty? We have involved union members from the beginning, also to understand our issues as part of bigger issues. But to pressure more local levels of management, it helps to also have visibility as a collective on a more local scale.
- We encourage everyone to connect with WOinActie. WOinActie is currently very much focusing on the national level, structural funding by the Ministry. Other actions are also important. We are also focusing on the level of university management, CVB’s and faculty management.
- Pluralism is important. Pressure points everywhere. Having local permanent colleagues speak about what quality of education means, about losing colleagues, continuity of a program. More specific than a broader union struggle. HR was really happy with our input.
- About next steps: there is no time to plan ahead for the next years – some researchers’ contracts run out next year. We need immediate planning and actions.
- Are there suggestions about funding? Websites/actions cost money. 0.7: perhaps we can share technical infrastructure?