The unions are far from impressed with the pay rise announced by Dutch universities last week. Negotiations about a new collective agreement for Dutch universities are at an impasse, but even so, university employees’ wages will go up by 0.8 percent, retroactively, from 1 January of this year.

“Such unilateral decisions are exceptional”, said Donald Pechler, a negotiator for the union representing academic staff (VAWO). “Things haven’t changed for us. The parties are still in disagreement. We wish to discuss a reduction of our workload and sustainable employability for university employees.”

‘So be it’

Other unions are saying the same thing. “So be it”, said Jan Boersma of FNV Overheid [the public sector-oriented component of FNV trade union] in response to the pay rise. “We also believe that employees are entitled to the money which is now being distributed by the universities, but there’s more to the story than that.”

CNV Onderwijs [the education-oriented component of CNV trade union] concurs. The unions are currently visiting all Dutch universities to talk to their rank and file. The final meetings for the time being, with Open University and Maastricht University, are scheduled for 5 July. After that, the negotiations will not be re-opened until after summer.

Umbrella agreement

The conflict between the unions and the universities is mainly about the Maximum Pay Rises Agreement, a kind of umbrella agreement for the entire public sector signed last autumn. The agreement states that all sectors must offer a five-percent pay rise to their employees, but no one is sure how to arrive at this percentage.

The universities are including pay rises awarded since January 2015 in their calculations, but the unions refuse to include these. They feel that these pay rises were awarded prior to the Maximum Pay Rises Agreement being signed, and must therefore be excluded from the calculations.

'Sustainable employability'

In addition, employees are mostly after more job security and a reduced workload, according to FNV’s Boersma. “In their opinion, that’s what this is all about”, said Boersma. “The 0.8 percent is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t satisfy their requests.”

“Among other things, the requested ‘sustainable employability’ is about how to deal with older employees”, Boersma explained. “But it’s also about women returning from maternity leave and wishing to make up for falling behind on their research.”