Fewer flexible contracts, more security for staff… This week, the government put forward a plan to reform the labour market. What will that mean for higher education?
After lengthy discussions with trade unions and employers, the government has sent the House of Representatives a plan that aims to ensure that “a new foundation is laid for the labour market” and that there will be fewer flexible contracts.
That appears to be good news for staff at higher education institutions. For many years, there has been criticism of the large number of temporary contracts at, in particular, universities but also at some universities of applied sciences.
Two weeks ago, the General Union of Education (AOb) went round in a bus to educational institutions to confront administrators on the subject of their ‘addiction to flexible contracts’. They allege that the insecurity of temporary contracts leads to stress and health issues.
When will staff experience an improvement?
It will take a while. First of all, bills must be drafted, which will be debated in the House of Representatives and the Senate in around a year’s time. The collective labour agreements will then need to be amended. All in all, it could take another two years.
What will change for lecturers and researchers?
The most significant change will probably be that the ‘revolving door’ will disappear. Newly hired lecturers and researchers generally get a temporary contract. If after three years they do not get a permanent contract but want to remain in their position, they currently have to take a ‘break’ of at least six months, after which they can once again take up temporary employment at the same university. This can give rise to a string of temporary contracts without any prospect of a permanent contract. To discourage that, the government wants to extend that break of six months to at least five years. Of course, you can still move from one university to another with temporary contracts.
But will this result in more permanent contracts in higher education?
AOb Director Douwe Dirk van der Zweep thinks it will. “For many years, we have been advocating less flexibility. I expect the five-year break to ensure that more people will get a permanent contract.”
Last year, the Faculty of Science discontinued the highly discussed tenure track system. Instead, it implemented a career track policy that assumes a permanent contract after 18 months. The new system focuses on the personal career path of the employee.
Postdocs and PhD students often have a contract of more than three years. And what’s the prospect now?
Postdocs will get a permanent contract more quickly, in the view of Jan Boersma, sector director at trade union FNV. Nothing will change for PhD students because their place is regarded as an apprenticeship.
And what will happen with the tenure tracks?
The thinking behind tenure tracks is ‘up or out’. Over the course of several years, researchers follow the path towards a professorship, with interim evaluations. Exceptions have already been laid down for them in the current collective labour agreement, and that is likely to remain so.
But could they still be dismissed if they have been in their job for a couple of years?
Trade union FNV wants these researchers to get a permanent contract at an earlier stage. But that is still the subject of discussion.