Labour rights

The building blocks of labour rights

Generally we can distinguish between four levels of labour rights: (1) National law, (2) Collective agreements, (3) Local agreements and regulations, and (4) Personal contract.

  1. National law. This applies to all employees (and in some cases students) in the Netherlands. Examples of relevant national laws include the Minimum Wage Act, the Working Hours Act, the Working Conditions Act, the Work and Care Act and the Civil Code.
  2. Collective labour agreements (CLA). This is an agreement the trade unions have made with the employer, and concerns all university personnel. This includes agreements on wages, working hours, bonuses, holidays and pensions.
  3. Local agreements and regulations. This concerns regulation regarding practical matters which can be different for universities, for example regarding commuting allowances. Sometimes the collective agreement explicitly states that local regulation should specify general legislation. Local regulation also includes promotion regulations. Typically, PhD regulations mostly address the course of events with regard to the (preparation of the) degree ceremony. Another example that is arranged locally is the right to be a promotor (ius promovendi).
  4. Personal contract. This may contain agreements based on your personal situation. Examples are the formal appointment of your promotor and agreements on the ownership of the data you collect during your trajectory. This may also contain agreements related to the type of funding you receive for your trajectory.

For now, you can remember that out of these four layers, the cla is most important. When you do not fall under the collective agreement, generally you only have the minimum protection of national law. Moreover, at present you cannot become a member of a labour union when you do not fall under the collective agreement for universities and unions cannot offer you legal assistance. The collective agreement is more important than your personal contract: what the agreement says always takes precedence over what the contract says.

Three levels of legality

Next to this, it is important to be aware of the different statuses of these rights. The three levels below aim to provide you with some guidance about the status of the different labour rights.

  1. Legally binding. Rights that are considered compulsory: these laws do not allow for a different interpretation by your employer. Examples include maternity leave and parental leave.
    • In some cases, the collective labour agreement allows for some leeway in interpretation. For example, there is a significant difference between that something it should be granted , or may be granted. PNN is aware of the problems with this formulation, which we will bring in to the negotiation table. This is especially true for (1) Illness, (2) representation duties, and (3) internships, and (4) informal care.
  2. Agreements and commitments. Rights about which consensus exists (for example because they are mentioned in the cla), but are formulated in a non-binding manner. Examples of ‘soft regulation’ like this are the agreements on opportunities for professional development.
  3. Generally acceptable. Domains about which no consensus has been reached and that are not yet laid down in legislation (not even as an intention or as a general agreement). For these areas, information is included on what is generally considered acceptable based on existing information and experiences. This mostly applies to supervision and teaching.

If you have doubts about the legal status of specific rights, do not hesitate to contact us on

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