Understanding contracts

Understanding Contracts

On Friday 23 April, Casual Leiden organized a talk by Nicole van Os and Donald Pechler, representatives of the union Algemene Onderwijsbond (AOb) on temporary teaching contracts at Leiden University. The talk centred upon the provisions of the collective labour agreement for Dutch universities (CAO NU), how workload calculations are made, and also addressed some specific queries that the audience had sent in advance. Here are some of the session’s main insights:

  • Precarity at Leiden University: Both academic and non-academic staff at Leiden University are employed on temporary contracts. Examples of the latter include cleaners, and those working in maintenance and catering services.

  • Overview in numbers: In 2019, 40.5% of the academic staff (excluding PhDs) at Leiden University held temporary contracts. Moreover, while the overall percentage of temporary academic contracts offered by the university has declined from 2015, the proportion of lecturers (docenten) who are engaged on a casual basis has generally increased (75% in 2019).

  • Temporary contracts where ‘necessary’: The CAO NU specifies that fixed-term contracts are a last resort, to be given to academic personnel when ‘necessary’. Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of what constitutes a necessity, and universities make use of this ambiguity to routinely give casual contracts for work that is structural.

  • Knowing your rights (a challenge): In both content and volume, your work should conform to the description of your role and function (see UFO profiles here) and the programme-specific workload norms developed within your faculty. The latter are, in principle, supposed to be declared by each educational programme, but such is not always the case. [Within the Humanities Faculty, these norms are currently under revision, due to dissatisfaction with the old norms. One of the avowed goals of this revision is to reduce teaching workloads, and to increase the research time available to staff].

  • Negotiating your contract: A full-time workload is approximately 1,680 hours per year. When discussing the terms of your contract with your superior (leidinggevende), you have the right to ask them about how your workload has been calculated! In practice, though, many supervisors themselves do not have this information (but you can ask them to find out).

  • Calculating your workload: Given the high incidence of structural overwork, it is generally in your interest to choose to register your working hours, rather than agreeing to annual goals (jaarafspraken). Although compensation for overtime is rare within the university, registering your work hours makes your overwork visible. In addition, if you work more than your agreed hours, you can compensate for this towards the end of your contract by either taking extra vacation hours, or selling the vacation hours you were not able to take. However, this option is only available to you if you inform your supervisor well in advance of your plans, and if there is no other alternative available (for instance, reducing the number of tasks you perform). Inform your supervisor and request this change under “personeelsmutaties” in the Self Portal. You can save vacation credit by setting your preferences in the ‘individual choice model’ (keuzemodel arbeidsvoorwaarden).

  • Paid leave: You have the right to four weeks’ paid leave per year. This is in addition to sick days or parental leave.

  • Principle vs. practice: Of course, while these rights and conditions do exist on paper, the reality of casual contracts is often very different. Even when you are able to ascertain your dues, contract extensions and further career development are often dependent upon maintaining a good relationship with your supervisor—and therefore accepting unreasonable working conditions.

  • Solidarity, representation, unionization: While casual staff therefore continue to work in these precarious conditions, it is clear that their interests can best be represented collectively. There is a great(er) role to be played by unions in this respect, and by associations like Casual Leiden, who continuously shine the spotlight on the problem of temporary contracts, and ensure it does not slip from policy agendas.

Kopie van Introductie AOb and temp contracts Casual Leiden 23 April 2021.ppt

Powerpoint slides of the presentation on 23 April

Q&A Casual Leiden meeting, 23 April 2021.pdf

Q&A of questions sent in advance of the meeting will be uploaded here soon


Manual to the VSNU job classification system