The unions call the offer made by the universities ‘so poor’ that they have collectively decided to suspend negotiations. In their opinion, the pay rise offered was not high enough.

The conflict concerns the 5 percent pay rise which was agreed last year in the wage agreement. This agreement applies to the whole public sector, including education. The universities say they adhere to the agreement, but the unions have a very different view.

5 percent pay rise

Just do the maths, say the universities. Last year, wages rose by 2 percent in January and in September by another 1.25 percent. And this calendar year, there has been another 1 percent increase. Now the universities are offering a 0.8 percent pay rise which will achieve that 5 percent.

According to the unions, however, the universities are looking too far back and should not be including old collective labour agreements. “For 2016, a pay rise of 1.6 percent was included in the wage agreement. Furthermore, pension premiums have fallen by 1.4 percent to create more room for wages”, says Donald Pechler from the VAWO union. So there is certainly enough scope to discuss a pay rise.

Severance pay

But the conflict between unions and employers is not just about salaries. Severance pay is another bone of contention. The issue here is what staff should receive if they are made redundant. How many years will their salaries continue to be paid and how much will they receive as a lump sum? The universities are willing to pay the premium for a third year of unemployment benefit if the unions will compromise and allow some leeway in the ‘transition fee’ regulation less.

The unions also want to reach national agreements about workload and career policy, unlike the universities which prefer to consult their own participation councils about this. “This will allow us to reflect local differences and create customised solutions in each university”, they write in their response.