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Work pressure too high for academics

THE NETHERLANDS/MAASTRICHT. A Dutch Trades Union Congress (FNV) survey shows that six in ten university employees are so busy that they develop physical and mental complaints. The Executive Board and the University Council have been crossing swords for some time over the issue of work pressure at the UM.

The survey by FNV Overheid (Civil Service) shows that 80 per cent of the academics consider the pressure of work at universities high or extremely high. The same applies to half of the support staff. Moreover, the pressure has increased over the past years.

Three quarters of the respondents work overtime during the weekends or in the evenings and cannot compensate this. Seventy per cent of the academics continue to work during the holidays: some for a few of days, others ten or more days in a year.

According to FNV chairman Jan Boersma, employees find themselves in an “enormous dilemma”. Good education, good support and good research are at their expense. “Employers really need to start relieving this pressure by budgeting a realistic number of hours for tasks.”

The Maastricht Executive Board has spent more than 12 million euro since 2014, spread across three years, on the improvement of the quality of education and in doing so also relieved the related work pressure. Partly as a result of this, 130 education jobs have been added in the past four years, shows Executive Board member Nick Bos with a series of charts. Thus, the number of teaching staff, in terms of percentage, has grown twice as much as the number of students.

Work pressure has not yet been a subject of discussion in the budget negotiations with the various faculty councils, says Bos. Nor did employees mention work pressure in last year’s satisfaction survey, with the exception of an occasional department.

The University Council, however, is not convinced by the figures and has detected high work pressure as a result of developments such as education innovations. In order to clear up this matter, a taskforce has been set up at the initiative of the Executive Board and the University Council, consisting of deans, University Council members and representatives from the faculties.

More than 2,500 respondents completed the FNV questionnaire. Half of them were union members. The unions and universities have had a conflict for months now about the new collective agreement. Negotiations have been deadlocked since May 2016.

This week, the FNV will discuss various matters with the VSNU, including the results of the survey. “And obviously, these will be subject of discussion in the collective agreement negotiations.”

Maurice Timmermans/ HOP

 

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