On Monday 6 September, Wageningen University employees demonstrated for a better collective labour agreement. 'The Executive Board prefers to invest in bricks and mortar rather than in people.'
One of the professors in the Auditorium changing room is wearing a yellow protest ribbon with the text 'Science is priceless; let's do it together!'. The chairman of the Doctorate Board, Paul Struik, points out that anything other than royal decorations is not allowed on togas. The yellow ribbon is removed.
There are also nine demonstrators with vuvuzelas and a banner on the steps in front of Forum. Today, university staff are demonstrating for a pay rise. Earlier that day, the Executive Board announced via the intranet that it is giving its full support to the Association of Universities (VSNU), which wants a pay freeze. 'Very disappointing', says Dirkjan Huigen, the contact for the CNV, one of the four trade unions supporting the demonstration. Huigen is an education and research employee at the Plant Sciences Group and is at Forum to demonstrate.
'In July we wrote a friendly joint letter with the unions in which we asked the Executive Board to state its position. Now, six weeks letter, their response has appeared on the intranet. They haven't even got the decency to write a letter back.' The content of the response has got people's back up too. 'The message ends with a threat by saying that pay increases would lead to staff cutbacks. That is intimidation and is also too black and white a picture.'
Investing in bricks and mortar
The Executive Board says that the growth in the university means all the financial resources need to be ploughed into buildings. The trade unions point out that growth has led to increased work pressure. Huigen: 'We have got a lot more students but that hasn't resulted in more staff. Everyone is putting in more effort. Showing a little appreciation would not be out of place. The employees are your capital.'
The profit last year was ten million euros. Huigen calculates that a 1 per cent pay rise would cost about 1.6 million. 'But the Executive Board prefers to invest in bricks and mortar rather than in people.'
People in Wageningen are not the kind to take to the streets. Even so, Huigen is satisfied. 'Four people said they would turn up but there are nine of us here now. The university doesn't have a tradition of demonstrations.'
The demonstrators at Forum are enjoying the sun. Lots of students are passing by, but they have no idea what the protest is about at all. They look at the demonstrators and laugh. 'We will blow until we drop for one per cent', says one of the vuvuzela players. 'We shouldn't have to be blowing to get that one per cent', replies the man next to him. 'We should be working'. Colleagues passing by pat them on the shoulder or stick their thumbs up. ® Gaby van Caulil, Alexandra Branderhorst