Activists at the 'Ware Opening' make noise with their instruments and shout: 'What do we want? Permanent contracts!'
Activists at the 'Ware Opening' make noise with their instruments and shout: 'What do we want? Permanent contracts!'

Image: Rob Niemantsverdriet

Vulnerable people get attention at 'True Opening' academic year

Vulnerable in college. People who have to deal with a flexible contract, with an unsafe working environment or with unequal treatment. They received all the attention today at the 'True Opening of the academic year' in The Hague.

“We can only conclude that these are turbulent times,” said Ceren Pekdemir, AObsector manager and university lecturer. Pekdemir burns loose, between the sound of the tram bells and in the light of the bright sun around the corner at The Hague Central:Precarious work. That is the overarching theme. Uncertain, perilous and questionable work.”

De university action groups are all present on Reagan and Gorbachev Avenue. Campaigners from Casual Leiden roll out a banner, grab their musical instruments - a trash can with stick - and the megaphone. Tim de Winkel of action group 0.7 walks around with a stack of A4 sheets with a QR code. He sticks them on the trees and the white FNV bus.

spat out

The code leads to a fundraising campaign for teacher Marijn Scholte who litigated against Utrecht University because he was not offered a permanent position after four years of temporary contracts and was shown the door. He filed a case, but was given by the subdistrict court no equal and must pay the costs of the proceedings themselves.

'If the work is structural, you should get a permanent contract'

At the 'True Opening' there is attention for his business, because of the QR code that he was not aware of. “Here is someone who has been spat out by the university,” says Arnoud Lagendijk, member of the AObsector board and working at Radboud University, on stage. Scholte is one of the vulnerable. He was not given a permanent position and continued to string together temporary contracts. “If the work is structural, you should get a permanent contract,” says Scholte. The spectators whoop and agree. "Shame!"

stop flex

Today it is one of the many points of interest during the 'True Opening'. Pekdemir mentions it in the closing word: “Stop offering inferior employment conditions.” This is necessary, because at some universities 90 percent of the researchers and on average 60 percent of the lecturers work on a temporary contract. This afternoon, the union requested personal attention from Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf, who attended the opening of the academic year in Maastricht.


FNV Education & Research also makes a point of temporary contracts. Bernard Koekoek of the FNV announces on stage a petition and calls on everyone to grab their smartphone: “The university is yours, claim it. Make yourself heard and keep doing that. If we do that right, then the next 'True Opening' might be a cause for celebration.” The crowd puts a yes in: 'What do we want? Fixed contracts! When do we want it? Now!'

There is no such thing as a festive touch in The Hague at the 'True Opening'

The website of the employers' organization Universities of the Netherlands calls the opening of the academic year 'extra festive', because the money from the administrative agreement concluded before the summer will end up with the universities. 'Universities are now working to restore their foundations, reduce workload and organize more research time', the university boards write. on the website.


There is no such thing as a festive touch in The Hague at the 'True Opening'. WOinActie is critical of the agreement and the way in which the money is spent. Willemien Sanders, lecturer in Media and Cultural Sciences at Utrecht University, speaks on behalf of this action group: “The minister wants peace in the tent, but it's not such a good plan. Many problems are not essentially addressed.” WOinActie wants the money to go to the biggest problem: the high workload and a realistic division of tasks for employees. There must be more university lecturers and personal research budgets.

Unfair treatment

The unequal treatment is also an issue that according to the activists universities should do more. While pasting the QR codes, Tim de Winkel explains that his action group is asking for attention on stage. “International colleagues are extremely isolated. A Chinese colleague of mine had no contact with anyone for nine months during coronalockdown. She was completely isolated.”

These colleagues do not always have Dutch contracts and have to get by on a grant of 800 euros. They often have visas and so they are stuck. “It is often the invisible ones,” says De Winkel. “We always make a point of temporary contracts. We also had successes, but some successes were not felt at all for them. So today we want to give this specific message.”

'The system is not built for everyone'

Josefien van Marlen, program manager at ECHO, also says that universities should do more about inclusion and diversity. “The system isn't built for everyone,” she says. Unfortunately, she concludes that since she was on the university council eight years ago, the same problems still exist. “We need to hear and see marginalized groups. Universities are not yet built on diversity.”

serious thing

Instead of Dijkgraaf, who was not present in The Hague, Marcel Nollen stepped on the podium. He is chairman of the board at the Free University and negotiator on the collective labor agreement for Dutch Universities. He took a AOb-card received with the text: 'On days off I work from 9 to 5'. “I'm mainly here to listen,” said Nollen. He informs us that an investigation is underway on the subject of flexible and structural work. Employers and employees will return to this during the next collective labor agreement negotiations. “That's a serious thing,” says Nollen. He agrees with the action groups on stage on themes such as inclusion and social safety.

Pekdemir nods and after all the speeches makes it clear once more: “Employers have to put things in order. Stop unequal treatment, provide a safe working environment and stop offering flex contracts.” In The Hague at the 'True Opening' everyone agrees.

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