2 November 2018 • HOP, by Steffi Weber
Reducing flexible work in universities of applied sciences is proving difficult
According to the Collective Labour Agreement, the number of temporary contracts in universities of applied sciences must be reduced, but little has happened in practice. The participation councils, who have to vote on this, do not have enough expertise, says their association.
It was announced last week that from now on, Utrecht University will give temporary lecturers four year contracts in line with the university CLA. The new CLA for universities of applied sciences also states that the number of flexible workers should be reduced, and preferably in this academic year, but those concerned don’t see that happening any time soon. The decision-making process is not proceeding smoothly and a short-term solution seems a long way off.
No national standard
Unlike at the research universities, the CLA for University of Applied Sciences (hbo-cao) lacks a national standard. The differences among the institutes are too great for that, states the argument. And that is why each university of applied sciences must set its own upper limit to the temporary contracts, together with the participation councils. But that is easier said than done.
“Many councils are wrestling with the same issue,” says Roelf van der Ploeg of the General Union of Education (AOb). “It’s two-sided, one the one hand they think flexible work is overused but on the other, they also see the advantages it brings. The union man understands this. “When there is uncertainty about future student numbers, or a reduction is expected, then you think twice before hiring people on permanent contracts”, says Van der Ploeg. “In such cases, institutes like to play it safe, as do councils sometimes.
The Netherlands Association of Participation Councils at Universities of Applied Sciences (VMH) also states that the decision-making process has stalled, but board member Joost Ansems thinks the cause lies elsewhere: The topic is too complicated and there is a lack of expertise in the councils. “We have no starting point for how we should determine the right percentage of flexible workers.”
The new CLA gives the participation council at university of applied sciences an “impossible task”, states Ansems. “The negotiators couldn’t find a solution so they have dumped it in our laps. Fine. But then make sure there is the necessary training and schooling.”
In contrast to the student members, staff in the participation councils do not have serious national representatives who could organise congresses and debate sessions. The VMH, run by four volunteers, is not equipped for that, says Ansems. “We are paying the price for that now the participation councils have increasing voting rights in complicated cases such as flexible work, workloads or the quality agreements.
Ansems is also critical that no one asked the councils their opinion before the negotiators passed the issue over to the universities of applied sciences and participation councils to deal with. That discussion has since taken place. The VMH and AOb have discussed this issue twice. A third meeting is planned for November.
In hindsight, were national agreements not a better idea? Union man Van der Ploeg doesn’t think so. “That does not suit the universities of applied sciences. An art academy is not the same as teacher training in Doetinchem or the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. And in principle, VMH is behind individual customisation, says Ansems. But that is only possible if there are major investments in participation councils.