7

Motivation

I'm soon going to start a Post-Doc in the Netherlands. The labor laws are different from where I did my Ph.D. work; the academic culture is somewhat different; the unionization situation is different; etc.

So, I've gotten the informal offer over email, and I'm now expecting the formal contract offer. I already have a copy of the collective employment agreement which covers post-doctoral researchers where I'll be working.

When I did my PhD, like I said, the situation was quite different - plus, I didn't actually get to sign any contract and no bargaining was involved. But now there might be some bargaining (although I'm not sure to what extent as employment conditions are mostly standardized).

The actual question

My question is: What are, in your experience or opinion are points that are possible/useful to bargain about in the individualized contract? If you can, please give an example of better vs worse options for the same point. Long lists with less details are also quite ok by me :-)

Examples

(some more academia-specific and some more generic)

  • The extent to which the academic institute controls copyrights to your discoveries: Partial copyright in your works / Institute controls everything / Automatic publication under free license.
  • The extent to which you can be required to perform duties other than your chosen specific personal research: Not at all / At their discretion / Upto x% of the work week
  • Funding for attending conferences abroad

Notes

5

Legally, as far as I understand, it is not possible to negotiate new terms that contradict the terms of the applicable collective labour agreements in the Netherlands. Many labour agreements however leave some room for negotiation, see e.g. Appendix 3 in the file you linked. In practice however there I would not expect there to be much room.

As for your example questions:

  • As Bill Barth pointed out, Section 1.9 arranges IP ownership, and indeed the employer owns everything. See also point 4 of Article 1.9.3. I don't see much room here for negotiation.

  • This is not part of the collective agreement. Your contract may have certain provisions, for example the amount of teaching (if applicable). You should discuss this with your supervisor/boss on what is expected and how much freedom you will have. Here there may be some room for negotiation.

  • Again, this is something the supervisor can answer. It depends on how much budget the group has available, or if your work is part of a grant funded project, how much there is available there.

  • If the employer owns everything, the employer can transfer some/all of the rights to me, or decide to publish things under a non-restrictive license, if it so chooses. So no problem there. Also, of course I'm not talking about contradicting the terms of the collective agreement - just adding conditions to my contract which are in my benefit. And reading the agreement there does seem to be a lot of room for that. – einpoklum Jul 25 '15 at 22:18
  • About the budget - there seems to be enough of it. But I have absolutely no idea how it's divvied up or what part of it can be used for what. Plus, some of the conditions don't have a direct cost, or no cost at all. – einpoklum Jul 25 '15 at 22:19
  • 1
    I would just ask the PI how much roughly would be available for travel each year. For most of the people I know in the Netherlands, travel funding usually isn't a problem. I wouldn't count on being able to add much if anything to your contract. Probably the only point where there might be some room is the step in the salary scale where you will start. This depends on your experience, but as Bill pointed out, as a postdoc you don't have much leverage. – Pieter Naaijkens Jul 25 '15 at 22:31
4

Looking at the collective employment agreement briefly, I'd say that pretty much everything is prescribed, and that only the things in Appendix 3 are negotiable. That is to say, you can negotiate about some things in the amount of gross salary and the amount of vacation. These are options for, it appears, trading salary/vacation for help with commuting costs, costs of school, union dues, additional retirement savings, and the purchase of a reasonable bicycle (it is the Netherlands after all!). This is referred to in Section 1.8 of the General Provisions.

Section 1.9 of the General Provisions covers Intellectual Property. I don't see anything that makes these provisions negotiable, and the employer appears to own everything. 1.9.2 covers Copyright and 1.9.2.1 covers requests for the transfer of copyright to the employee. If you are concerned about who owns your scientific articles or software products, I would ask how frequently these transfers are approved.

I haven't looked through all the chapters for provisions specific to researchers and postdocs, so if you are concerned that you might be assigned duties outside of your own, self-directed research, I would carefully ask your interviewer/potential supervisor about that. Post-doctoral positions are usually about extended training in the US, and so they tend to be a blend of producing works that came out of the dissertation (or extending it) and producing new works that are a collaboration between the postdoc and the advisor. I.e., postdocs are expected to continue working on their old ideas but also work on new ideas that come from the collaboration of the postdoc and the advisor.

That's the theory at least. They are often expected to do the former and also lead ongoing lab efforts at the advisor's sole direction. If you are concerned about this, ask. Just be careful that you don't turn your potential employer off to hiring you due to an apparent unwillingness to be a team-player.

  • First of all - +1 and thanks. However... the IP and copyright clauses are probably rather negotiable, since the employer can always cede copyrights and IP rights. Also, there are points not covered by the agreement at all, or covered vaguely, and those are the ones I'm most interested for people to bring up here. – einpoklum Jul 25 '15 at 16:56
  • @einpoklum What evidence do you have for the negotiability other than hope? I don't see anything in the collective agreement that says that any of its terms are negotiable, beyond those that are explicitly negotiable like I mentioned already? Where is your "probably" coming from? The IP portion even lays out the process for transfer to the employee, so I find it to be quite specific and not vague at all. I doubt you would get a blanket transfer written into your contract, for example, and I think that asking for such might be detrimental to your application. – Bill Barth Jul 25 '15 at 17:30
  • I'm not applying for anything. I think you're considering the situation based on your experience in the US, which is one of the more employer-slanted places to work in... I've been given a job offer, and now we're negotiating terms. My evidence is experience in other workplaces, with and without collective agreement defaults. – einpoklum Jul 25 '15 at 19:11
  • @einpoklum, maybe you can come back and answer this question yourself with your experiences if you don't find a Dutch reader to provide one. I've never worked in a place with a pre-negotiated collective employment agreement like this, so I can only speculate. Everything is technically negotiable in non-union employment in the US, but in most of my experience, working without written contracts, employers don't deviate from their written policies. They'd rather forgo the hire than make an exception, though this is conventional not enforced by any law. – Bill Barth Jul 25 '15 at 19:20
2

In hindsight, I can say the following:

The research institute did not take kindly to attempts at negotiation, and would basically not negotiate on nearly anything. (That is, it's not that it stuck to its position - there was no negotiations dialog).

Exceptions or near-exceptions to this rule were (or could have been):

  • Mode of calculation of your effective experience (e.g. how does industry experience count)
  • Guarantees regarding funding for experimental equipment
  • Opportunities for "access" to potential grad students
  • Some kind of help with temporary accommodation while you search for a place to live in Amsterdam, which is an incredibly long and arduous process.
  • (Informal?) agreement re how FOSS code you write is to be licensed upon release

Perhaps there are a few other negotiable points, but the negative attitude to negotiations makes it difficult to cover that many.

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