If you want to learn how to evade Flex's law, you should come to the university

If you want to learn how to evade Flex’s law, you should come to the university

Mail from the trade union: Agreement has been reached on the new collective labor agreement for Dutch universities. Now the negotiators want to know what we union members think. They themselves are quite satisfied: more salaries, better compensation for working at home, lower work pressure, and the most important result according to the unions: more permanent contracts.

They desperately need it. 40% of faculty members are on a temporary basis. And that’s without doctoral students, who have temporary contracts. If you include them, you’ll reach 60 percent of temporary employees.

University officials call it the “elastic casing,” as if it were a thin, soft functional layer. In fact, it is an unstable crust, perforated, thicker in some places than others, constantly changing in composition, but not completely gone. This crust gets in everyone’s way.

The most natural are the temporary employees themselves: an uncertain future, no mortgage, always having to look for something new, not being able to settle somewhere quietly, regular periods without work. Students note this in the quality of education: just as the teacher has mastered a subject, she can leave again. The workload of permanent employees is increasing. Because they have to constantly train their new colleagues, but mainly because there are all kinds of work that can only be done by people with permanent appointments, such as appointing all kinds of committees.

So it’s great that the new collective labor agreement has agreements on fewer temporary contracts. Unfortunately, these agreements are limited: they mainly concern employees with teaching and research appointments. Whereas the biggest problem is with teachers who have a full teaching appointment, without time to research.

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No financial necessity, but administrative reluctance

60% of these teachers are on a temporary basis. This is not because their work is temporary. Of course, student numbers fluctuate, and funding from the ministry leaves much to be desired, which means that not every teacher can get a permanent job. But a good portion of that 60 percent is doing structural work, for which there is structural funding, and yet they don’t get a permanent contract.

This is not a financial necessity, but a managerial reluctance. This is also evident from the variety of questionable legal structures that universities have created to evade the Flex Act. If you want to know how you can keep employees on temporary contracts for years, you should work in the human resources department of a university.

There they let employees sit at home for six months between two temporary contracts, until they could start counting contracts again. They move employees back and forth between the university and the university medical center because they are a separate employer. They make “conditional” permanent contracts, which more or less state: You’re in a permanent job until the outside benefit ends, and then your contract ends, too. They extend appointments by adjusting the date in an existing contract, rather than drafting a new contract, so that they remain below the maximum number of temporary contracts allowed.

necessary and explicable

This last trick was recently ignored by the judge. It was applied by Leiden University, with their mentor Arnot van Rey. Van Ree sued his employer and won. Leiden University Defense: Permanent contracts for lecturers who do not conduct research are against our policy. As I said: temporary contracts are not a financial necessity, but an administrative reluctance.

This unwillingness appears to be so great that trade unions have not been able to agree in a collective labor agreement that permanent appointments will also become the norm for teachers. What they did they managed to get out of it: every university council must henceforth show that its flexible structure is “necessary and explicable”.

finally. I’ve wondered for years why some college officials would rather forgo dying than give well-functioning employees a permanent contract. No one could explain to me the need for this, but now, thanks to the new collective labor agreement, this will really happen. I’m curious.

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