Is the Flex Act too rigid?

According to the new Dutch ‘Work and Security Act’ (WWZ) – known as the Flex Act – employees must be offered a permanent contract after three temporary contracts or two years (four for academic staff). The aim of the act is to provide more security but it doesn’t always do that, reveals a survey among…
Yvonne de Hilster

Han Zuilhof, Professor of Organic Chemistry

‘The flex act is a big nuisance for me. The main problem is the limited period for which you are allowed to employ people on a temporary basis

. It is too short for them to build up expertise, especially for teachers and lab assistants. Good teaching takes experience and a two-year contract is much too short to gain enough of that. But fluctuating student numbers make it hard to offer people a permanent contract. Whereas based on the number of High School students I can probably assume that I’ll have work for some of them until 2020. Giving teachers work in temporary bits and pieces through payrolling is too expensive for me and it’s insecure for them. For lab assistants, short contracts make no sense in most cases, because it takes time to build up expertise in using advanced techniques. Anyway, people don’t always want a permanent contract themselves, but they would like a bit more security. So I can see a need on both the supply and the demand sides for contracts of five or six years, on all levels. That provides enough structure without you getting stuck with each other for ever.’

Peter Tamas, Education and Competency Studies chair group

‘I now have a fat dossier full of contracts because people here refuse to respect the spirit of the flex act.

This is due to a fear of the legal responsibilities arising from a permanent post. After a postdoc and a temporary contract as a teacher, at some point I got a part-time teaching post for 0.4 fte because they were keen to keep me. But the number of hours in the contract was decided purely on the basis of costs and not the time required for the teaching involved. So in reality I now systematically work overtime. I was also encouraged to take part in the acquisition of research projects, but once they were acquired I was refused the research contract I would need to implement them. Only after months of struggle did I get a small temporary appointment for that. I could go on. My job is great, and my students and immediate colleagues too. But the university seems to be allergic to commitment. In fact there is a kind of ideological exploitation going on: it’s easy to exploit ambitious people.’

Jeroen Vos, Water resources management chair group

‘I am now on tenure track as assistant professor and I have a temporary contract. The Work and Security Act prevents tenure track from working as intended. Every three years you are assessed by the Assessment Committee, according to ever stricter standards – it is up or out. After six years you are assessed by a Severe Assessment Committee, which has to decide whether your temporary appointment becomes a fixed one. If you continue on a fixed contract after three years, the “out” option disappears from subsequent evaluations. Then you should be offered another job but you are still on the books so the group cannot take on new people on tenure track. At the same time, three years is too short to assess whether an assistant professor has reached the required standard and is making sufficient progress in teaching, research, acquisition and teamwork. In short: tenure track and the flex act clash now. It’s time to adapt the tenure track regulations, which come from the US, to the Dutch labour law.’

Ingrid Lammerse, Director Corporate human resources

‘The new rules are a pain. They restrict our flexibility, and yet our organization depends heavily on external developments such as student numbers, project financing and the market.

To handle this situation you want a combination of people on permanent contracts and a flexible layer of temporary contracts and perhaps freelancers. Those possibilities are restricted by the new rules which have reduced the maximum period for temporary contracts from three to two years. That means you have to make a definite decision about whether to go on with someone at an earlier stage. You can’t always assess that properly yet, in terms of their personal qualities, market developments or funding. If it was easier to say goodbye to someone you would offer them a permanent post more easily. But I think you should have good reasons for not going on with someone.’

Esther Veen, Rural Sociology chair group, officially seconded from PPO

‘I was affected by the flex act when I had finished a temporary contract at PPO and should have had a fixed contract, but they didn’t want to offer me that at that point. Because they didn’t want to lose me either, I got a ‘payroll contract’. That felt like a rejection at the time. It also meant worse secondary contract conditions. But I still accepted it: if you say no, you’re out of work. About a year later, they wanted to get rid of these systems and I got a permanent contract after all.’

Kristina Raab, Gender policy officer at corporate HR

‘The intention behind the flex act is good: offering employees a permanent contract creates more stability. But it goes wrong when it’s implemented. Because of the new rules I cannot have another temporary contract after my current contract runs out. Only it’s been decided not to give me a permanent post so I’ll have to leave, even though people are pleased with my performance.’

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