CAO agreement 2021

On June 29, the unions (AOB and FNV Overheid), after intense negotiations with the VSNU (the umbrella organization for university employers in the Netherlands) have agreed to a new collective labour agreement (CAO) for 2021. You can read the agreement here. It is an addition to the existing CAO of 2020, which you can find here.

In the last week, the CAO has been debated energetically online, in the press, at union meetings and during our own meeting "Shifting Terrain" . All union members should now have received an email where they can vote to accept or reject the agreement (if you haven’t received your email please contact your union asap). The deadline for votes is the 15th July.

To help in the process,two Casual Leiden members share their thoughts on the CAO.

Judith Naeff:
I am still hesitant about voting no or yes to the CAO agreement.

I am happy with the 14 euro minimal wage, and that there is extra pressure on permanent contracts for UDs and OBP. Though I fear the agreement will mean a decrease of UD positions in favour of more temporary docent-positions, especially for replacement of staff on research grants, I believe this agreement may significantly improve conditions for our colleagues in OBP.

Like my colleagues, I think this CAO does not nearly do enough for colleagues in teaching-only positions who are already at the receiving end of far-reaching austerity logics. My union representative says this is all they could get out of the negotiations, which says something both about the attitude of the VSNU and about the strength of our unions.

Given this weakness, I fear the consequences of voting down this agreement. It may mean the agreement will be ratified without the support of one of the unions, probably AOb. Local unionists will then have less leverage to put pressure on CvBs to enforce the security measures that are part of this CAO agreement, especially the phrase “the proportion of fixed term contract of academic staff, particularly among lecturers and researchers at the universities, should not be larger than necessary and explicable.”

I wonder whether it would not be more strategic at this point to invest all our efforts in local campaigns to define “necessary and explicable” and enforce that at local institutions, while also turning the heat on for next year’s CAO negotiations instead of voting this one down now. The verdict in the case van Ree vs Leiden University forms a good starting point for that. In any case, our main challenge for the next academic year will be to mobilize larger numbers of the academic workforce, precisely due to both work pressure and precarity."

Sai Englert:
I voted to reject the deal. While it offers minimal improvements – a slight pay rise and the potential for UDs to become permanent – it leaves too much to later implementation by local negotiators, which is where the union is currently the weakest. Moreover, by failing to provide a framework for all casual staff members, it risks making the overall situation worse.

I am less concerned about unions being barred from local negotiations because collective bargaining is not only a gain for unions, it is also positive for employers. It centralises labour conditions (and therefore 'levels the playing field’ between competing employers), limits militancy and organisation at the base, and allows managers to plan over the long term.

My hope overall is that rejecting the deal throws a spanner in the works and forces the question of organising docenten and casual members of staff on the union’s table - now rather than at some point in the future. I hope it forces the unions’ leaderships to think seriously about what their plan of action is to organise casual staff members, take action, and improve the balance of forces in the sector before the next round of negotiations.

Finally, I am not in favour of Turkeys voting for Christmas - and we are the Turkeys. Not only are we ignored in the CAO and told to go back to local negotiations and court cases (which, in any case, we are already doing, so it isn’t clear what this brings to the table) but, worse, the fact that we are ignored while UDs are, in theory, being made permanent gives a direct incentive to employers to lower UD numbers and increase docenten numbers. This will further limit the changes of early career academics to get paid research time”.