“People are not sleeping, it is making them ill”
MAASTRICHT. An intended plan to organise the reception services differently at this university has led to upheaval within the General and Technical Services. The Executive Board has now hired an external advisor to map out the situation within the department “objectively and with the proper degree of subtlety”.
This was the text that the director of services (FS, Facility Services), Eric Klekamp, sent to his employees last Thursday, in an extra edition of the internal digital bulletin News Flash. The appointed advisor is Wil Rutten, former city manager in Maastricht and then the highest provincial civil servant in Noord-Brabant until his retirement in 2014.
The fact that Klekamp is insisting on objectivity and “the proper degree of subtlety” is no surprise. Since three members of the FS’s employees’ council stepped down a month ago, there has been a wave of e-mails, the tone of some of which was quite emotional. One employee mentioned the “sneaky way” in which management was trying to “push through the reorganisation of the receptions”. This to the displeasure of the same management, which had first sent a message that FS’s mailing list “was not meant for this purpose” and a day later (via the cluster co-ordinator for receptions) expressed criticism of the tone “(a line has been crossed”) and announced “appropriate measures”.
The employee concerned was subsequently formally reprimanded indeed, but the reaction of those in charge appears to have had an adverse effect within the department. One colleague, who wishes to remain anonymous, says: “Ridiculous, the tone of the e-mail may be questioned, but its content was correct. I thought it was disgusting, those ‘appropriate measures’. What kind of dictatorship are we living in?”
The writer of the criticised e-mail admits that he now understands that a more moderate tone would have been wiser, but that he has nevertheless “received a lot of support, from the whole department, not just from other reception personnel”.
The bomb exploded when, on 20 October, three of the four members from FS’s employees’ council chucked it in. The reason was an apparent lack of trust among employees in their representatives. The plans for the receptionists had caused so much bad blood that people were bypassing the employees’ council and going directly to the unions in the Local Consultative Body (with unions and Executive Board). According to Roy van Kessel, a member of the employees’ council since 2005 (and chairman since 2008), “people no longer knew how to reach us”. But Johny Coninx, one of the receptionists, says: “I could reach them very well, on a number of occasions I sent a long e-mail, even before the summer, but I never received an answer. Then you go elsewhere to get answers.”
Another complaint against the employees’ council: two of its four members (one of whom is Van Kessel) became cluster co-ordinators, a managerial position. To close to management, people say. Van Kessel: “They feel that those in a managerial position should not have a place in the representative advisory body. But I didn’t change after I was given that position last year.” He also says he received a lot of support after stepping down as a council member.
The employees’ council also suffered from a reduced lack of trust from the director in the past year. Klekamp: “I had a very good relationship with the employees’ council, discussions were very open, honest and constructive. It is good for the quality of the representative advisor body if a director can sit with his feet on the table and speak in an atmosphere of trust. This atmosphere of trust changed in 2014, with the arrival of a new member in the employees’ council, Nic Ritzen. I could no longer speak freely.”
According to Van Kessel, Ritzen didn’t stick to the rules that had been agreed upon and he made “confidential information public”.
According to the chairman of the University Council, Herman Kingma, whose mediation was called upon by the employees’ council, Ritzen preferred “conflict over harmony. There was a difference of opinion about what should and shouldn’t be made public. Nic felt that you should be able to publish the minutes, but of course these are not official until they have been approved in the following meeting.”
Ritzen, who was the only remaining member of the employees’ council, does not want to react because he “does not wish to endanger the relationship with the director. At the moment, we are working constructively.” In the meantime, it is clear that it is he who still has the trust of the dissatisfied receptionists.
The group’s complaints concern both the content of the plans and the way they have been treated. Employees who want to remain anonymous (“if you open your mouth, you will be slapped down”) report that communication is inadequate, that measures are introduced out of the blue, that the management is not listening “and does nothing with what we bring up. They also have no idea what we do”. This atmosphere, others say, has also been prevalent for quite some time in other sections of FS (employing about one hundred and thirty people, often part-time, from catering to receptions, from real estate to purchasing).
Director Klekamp as well as former FS employees’ council chairman Van Kessel deny categorically that there is a reign of fear at FS. The statement in Observant last week by Wilma Klinkhamer (Abvakabo employee, LO member and member of the University Council) that there is a “gigantic degree of mistrust” among employees towards those in charge, surprised Klekamp: “That’s what I read in the paper. It is true that resistance emerged when the major reorganisation was completed at the end of last year. Operational management has changed, which has caused friction and perhaps some of the lack of trust can be traced back to that. But it is certainly not something that can be seen across the board in the organisation.”
But when asking people in FS, bizarre things can be heard. Some no longer dare use their telephones at work because management checks the list of calls and then holds the employee accountable. Cluster co-ordinator of receptions, Francien in de Braek, on the subject: “Nonsense, of course we don’t do that. And no, e-mail traffic is also not checked. There are always strange rumours going around here.”
Meanwhile, the formal side of the matter regarding the receptions is being “legally examined,” says Klekamp. Now that employees who have always had a fixed place and worked at a fixed time, are being used in a more flexible manner, the question arises whether that is in conflict with the collective labour agreement, or in conflict with the law on working hours. Reports say that one or more receptionists have sought legal advice. An employee: “I have always had fixed days and times. I knew where I stood; this makes me feel like a temporary employee.”
The fact that people must now structurally work evening and weekend shifts (“we don’t mind helping out once in a while”) is seen as an attack on their social lives. One of them: “People are not sleeping, some have even sought psychological counselling. It is making us ill.”