It’s a new year and negotiations for a new Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) are starting tomorrow (10th January), as such it is a good time to take stock of where we are – and where we are going. Through this statement we want to share our concerns about the current state of play, whilst also calling for more cooperative, transparent, combative, and ultimately, stronger unions.
In the past two years, Casual Academy and 0.7 have aimed to improve the position of casual workers in the CLA. We have organised local and national campaigns, demonstrations, and industrial action. We have met managers, negotiated with them, and published scores of reports and analyses. While we have seen some improvements during this period (notably for UDs), we have not seen any fundamental change yet. Our sector remains structurally dependent on short-term, temporary workers.
While we continue to actively address the issue of precarious labour with our unions, faculty boards, and university boards, we would also like to express our concerns about the current situation, in the run-up to the next round of national negotiations. Indeed, we are deeply concerned about the course that the ‘joint research’, agreed upon in the CLA, has taken, and the deeper problems in strategy that its issues point to.
The last CLA, signed in June 2022, did not offer solutions regarding the plight of precarious workers in Dutch Universities. While it included a promise for a non-binding joint study “to determine how the contractual position of Docenten can be improved”, it failed to actually address said position for temporary lecturers. At the time, we pointed out that the demand for a joint study felt like a delaying tactic by the employers. We pointed out that ample data is already available, which demonstrates universities’ structural dependence on casual contracts, as well as copious research carried out by different local casual groups that shows how structural work is repeatedly covered by temporary hires – in direct breach of the spirit and letter of previous national agreements. The unions, however, assured us that the research would provide the ‘hard data’ necessary to finalise a deal in 2023.
Last summer, we therefore anticipated news about, or requests for advice on, the survey – but none came. We were taken aback when, suddenly, in November 2023, some (but not all) universities reported that a survey had started circulating. Our surprise was intensified by the content of the questionnaire. It was created without the input, participation, or consultation with casualised staff and their campaigns. It is vague, asks questions that do not provide the ‘hard data’ we were promised, and its roll out has been replete with technical issues.
We believe that this inadequate process running up to the CLA negotiations points to wider problems in the approach of the unions towards resolving the issues we face. There is a continued reliance on the good will of the employers and a refusal to organise the rank and file to make sustained and effective industrial action possible. In our view, there is an urgent need for our unions to develop, in cooperation with us, a clear strategy to actively take on and overcome our sector’s structural dependence on casual labour. This cannot be dictated by the employers or the rhythm of CLA negotiations only. It requires action determined by us, and for us.
Casual workers and their allies have made their feelings very clear. We have done so by demonstrating, publishing reports, organising meetings, holding negotiations with our CvBs, and even striking. What we need from our employers is a clear roadmap towards ending this current state of affairs. Our unions have to stop hoping that this will happen by cajoling employers into cooperation. This year needs to be the year where workers rights are fought for, tooth and nail!
We need coordinated, national action to defeat casualisation - and we need it now. We call upon the union leadership to change course: 1) to make ‘ending casualisation’ a number one priority; 2) to consult their concerned constituents in the process of organising for change; and 3) to lay out a clear national plan of action on how casualisation will be ended, and to do so before the next CLA.
Similarly to last year, there is a real danger that the CLA negotiations will lead to a trade-off between inflation-correction and addressing casual labour. Employers are already said to be offering the former in exchange for dropping the latter. Our union representatives need to make clear from the get go that they will not accept such a divide and rule strategy, and lay out their plans to counter it. Only in this way can we be in a position to make demands on employers and leverage our collective power to achieve our goals. We cannot trail the employers’ wishes in the hope that this will convince them of the validity of our demands.
We call upon our colleagues and our students to join us. Join us at demonstrations, join us in meetings, spread our messages, and join a union. Casual contracts push down teaching quality and labour conditions for all in the sector. All of us have an interest in ending them. But workers’ rights don’t appear out of thin air. Permanent contracts, social safety, inflation compensation, have to be fought for. Let’s make 2023 the year we do so – and win.
Casual Academy & 0.7