I am a PhD student directly employed by a German university, this means my salary is paid directly by the federal government.
In Germany, the salary of PhD students is (often and in my case, definitely) determined by the TVöD. This is the tariff negotiated between public sector workers and the state. The tariff contract deals not only with salary levels, but also on salary increments. These take place automatically after a fixed amount of years (one, three, six years, etc). Everything is practically set in stone.
It appears my advisor forgot to take into account the TVöD and the automatic salary increments when making the personnel budget for the grant for my research project (which is kind of funny since he is also subjected to them, and they are a big deal in Germany).
I will be shortly starting my third year. The matter came up after he reviewed the project finances and noticed the automatic and mandatory (please correct me if I am wrong) salary increment after the first year. In his own words: “you are earning too much money”. Just to be clear, all PhD students at our chair have the same salary level (E13, 100%) and are subjected to the same TVöD. This is in no way a surprise or something unexpected. The personnel budget was calculated as if my salary remained unchanged for the entire project duration.
This miscalculation means that the funds obtained form the research grant for personnel costs will not cover my salary until the end of my third year.
I have a contract directly with the German government up to the end of my third year, and I am outside my probation period (Probezeit). I have had no problems at all, and the chairing professor of my committee (not my advisor, these are two different persons) seems pleased with my progress.
I am looking for any legal and practical advice:
Is it possible for them to “demote” me to a lower level, part time, or similar?
This was an error from my advisor. I can imagine that eventually I will have a meeting with the chairing professor and my advisor to discuss this. What can they ask from me? What can they legally ask/demand from me?
If I have learned something in the past two years is that just as in companies, academia is a boy’s club (not in the sexist sense) in which you do not want to rock the boat. I do not want to burn bridges or have unnecessary legal confrontations. But I also refuse to being taken advantage of, specially since PhD students already work a lot of unpaid overtime, and this would set a terrible precedent for future colleagues. How should I go about dealing with this?