“There is an ‘collection session’ this afternoon,” says Martien Jenneskens halfway through December. In addition to being the official secretary of the Board of Examiners at the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences, he is union official at UM for FNV. That session is an in-person event where members can put forward their ideas for the FNV stake for the upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations, Jenneskens explains.
At AOb, things work a little differently, says Ceren Pekdemir, an AOb representative at UM and assistant professor at the Maastricht Sustainability Institute. “There were online meetings in December, in which the members could put forward their subjects,” says Donald Pechler, sector manager and negotiator for AOb. He has joined the Zoom interview with Pekdemir. Observant has approached other unions for this article, but received no reaction.
The unions do the same at all other universities, after which this is all made into one joint ‘stake in the form of a letter’, a starting point for the negotiations with employer UNL (Universities of the Netherlands, previously VSNU). That letter was already put together at the beginning of January and that is relatively early: “Last year, the negotiations were not completed until May,” says FNV union leader Bernard Koekoek. He joins Jenneskens in the interview. “This time we want to be finished by 31st March.”
This letter of stakes includes a salary increase of 14.3 per cent. That percentage doesn’t just appear out of the blue, Pechler explains. “We started to think about this back in October; inflation was 14.3 per cent at that time. Our members are suffering from price rises, these are extreme times. During the negotiations, we will aim for preservation of purchasing power.” In addition to the substantial salary increase, there need to be more tenured contracts, the letter states. Pekdemir: “At the moment, universities often give flexible contracts for structural work, also at UM. In addition, these are often contracts for 0.6 and 0.7 or 0.8 FTE, while in many cases they structurally do overtime. So actually, fulltime contracts, but that is not what they are offered.” Why do people accept that? “Because they have a passion for science and education.”
For his role as union official, Jenneskens receives 0.4 FTE. He did internal training and took an exam with FNV. He was given an office and assurance of being reinstated in his job by the university when his term (two years) ends. In those two days of work per week for the union, members can approach him with questions about their rights and obligations. Jenneskens “gladly” gets to the bottom of things for them. “I studied Law and I love diving into all those regulations.” He is also busy setting up a business members group, so that he can stay abreast of what is going on among the members.
As a chosen union representative. Pekdemir is a member of Lokaal Overleg (LO), the negotiating platform between the Executive Board (employer) and employee organisations. That is where, among others, subjects from the collective bargaining agreement are discussed that need to be further elaborated upon by UM. “Issues like disabled employees, who are not always understood by the employer. During those local discussions (LO), we can talk about how extra provisions can be made. I see myself as the spokesperson for people with problems, I stand up for them.”
For years, the number of union members was on the decline, but numbers have been rising again the last few months, says Jenneskens. “These are tough times; people now see the importance of it more.” At AOb, there was a considerable rise in member numbers too, Pekdemir adds. FNV is alleged to be the largest, but exactly how many FNV has at UM, for some reason he does not want to say. “It is best to be vague about that.” Pekdemir would also prefer not to say anything about member numbers. Both strongly recommend union membership. If you join forces, you can simply achieve more, they say. Apart from that, Jenneskens feels that it is also a matter of solidarity. “They take care of your collective bargaining agreement. As a member, you can put forward matters that you feel should be included in the negotiations. It is your democratic right. Moreover, in the case of a labour conflict, the union will provide legal aid.” And an added bonus: “The cost of your membership is tax-deductible.”