Vote down the CAO 2022

Why you should vote down the Collective Labour Agreement (CAO) negotiation settlement in short:

  • As the current inflation rate is close to 10%, the negotiated pay raise of 4% is a huge pay cut.

  • The negotiations have failed to make any progress on permanent contracts for Lecturers (Docenten). Instead, a non-binding study will be carried out “to determine how the contractual position of Docenten can be improved”. Meanwhile, Dutch universities continue to fail to implement basic EU labour law.

  • In this context, the lump-sum payment of €400,- is nothing more than a poorly disguised bribe.

  • This agreement is therefore not a victory but a defeat.

  • We can and should do better!

Union members across higher education in the Netherlands are currently being asked to vote for or against the latest national labour agreement (CAO) (Vote here if you are an AOB member and here if you are an FNV member).

While our trade union negotiators are claiming it represents a victory, Casual Leiden - alongside other casual groups across the country - is calling on all those balloted to vote the agreement down.

The Background

The agreement currently on the table was reached against the backdrop of a year and a half of mobilisations surrounding the question of casualisation in Dutch universities.

A year and a half ago, in Leiden and across the country, staff members formed campaign groups to demand an end to the structural dependence on short term contracts and universities’ “revolving door” policy. Not only does this state of affairs damage the working and living conditions of colleagues trapped in this system, it also undergirds a pervasive reality of overwork and social insecurity across the sector.

Thousands of colleagues are stuck in short term contracts, pushed to accept ever worsening working conditions in the hope of securing work - and eventually an ever-elusive permanent contract. This leads to the normalisation of growing workloads, bullying, and other forms of power abuse, which these staff members often feel unable to challenge. As this becomes a new normal across the board, permanent as well as temporary employees are affected.

Ending casualisation therefore concerns us all.

Despite the growing calls for redress, in last year’s CAO the unions and the employers failed to address the concerns of the largest group of temporary members of staff: docenten.

A framework for other members of staff on temporary contracts was developed which led to the creation of numerous permanent positions. By failing to include the most vulnerable members of staff, the agreement created an incentive for universities to hire more docenten in order to avoid having to offer permanent contracts to Universitaire Docenten (University Lecturers) under the provisions of the agreement.

On this basis many called on voting the 2021 CAO down. In both the FNV and the AOB over 40% of members rejected the agreement. To placate them, universities promised to address their concerns in local negotiations. This, however, did not happen.

Casualisation kicked into the long grass yet again.

Faced with the employers' failure to live up to their promises, and with growing pressure from below by casual academy and 0.7 (see for example here and here), the unions promised to make ending casualisation for docenten a central focus of this year’s CAO negotiations. This has not materialised either.

While UVA casual workers are currently on strike, demanding permanency and fair contracts, the CAO negotiations have ended without any proposed improvements for docenten. Instead, the unions and the employers have agreed to conduct a study which will form the basis for further discussions in next year’s negotiations.

No constraints on - or guarantees by - the employers are included in the agreement.

The problem is therefore being kicked into the long grass - again. Not only does this fail to grasp the urgency of the situation, it also asks staff members to trust the good will of the employers - the very people who are responsible for the current situation and have failed to make good on their promises in the past.

We find this outcome utterly unacceptable. The problem is not new. Unions have raised these issues for over a decade with employers. The idea that we lack the necessary data to impose basic labour legislation (structural work should lead, by law, to permanent contracts), therefore beggars belief.

4% pay rise?

In response to objections raised to the current agreement, union negotiators have pointed to a promised 4% pay rise in response to inflation.

While mitigating the negative effects of inflation on sector salaries is welcome, this headline is misleading. Inflation is currently at 9.7 % and is set to continue to rise. Members are therefore offered a diminished pay cut in real terms, rather than a pay rise.

Alongside the failure to address casualisation - which continues to function as a downwards pressure on working conditions and wages - the CAO currently on the table is letting employers get away with murder. Voting for it, is voting for a relative pay cut and continued exploitation. Our position is clear: we must vote the agreement down.

What will voting it down achieve?

In case of a no confidence vote, the parties would have three options:

1. Return to the negotiations.

2. Fail to reach an agreement, in which case the previous CAO remains in place.

3. Sign a minority agreement with the smaller unions in the sector.

Points 2) and 3) are possibilities, but employers have no interest in going down that route. A situation of open conflict with unions and a failure to achieve industrial peace would put strikes, national demonstrations, and marking boycotts (that is, mass disruption across the sector) on the table. This is a reality that the employers want to avoid at all costs.

If the two previous years of CAO negotiations have taught us anything, it is that the employers have no incentive to address the structural exploitation on which the current system is based. This should not come as a surprise. Universities have designed it and benefit from maintaining the status quo.

If we are to achieve structural change across the sector, we will need to impose it on the employers. This can only be achieved by raising the temperature and the pressure across the country.

We call on the unions to continue negotiations and make demands, but also to mobilise their membership and disrupt the functioning of business as usual. We must stop relying on the good will of the employers and instead force them to cede ground.

Failing to do so, we can expect more of the same in a year to come: employers unwilling to address the problems we face and unions unable to achieve the structural change that they know is needed.

Changing course starts by turning down this agreement.