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“I feel safe knowing that the union is on my side”

German archaeologist Sven Ahrens compares union membership to fire insurance. “You don’t think your house will burn down, but if it does, you’re covered.”

Sven Ahrens

(Sven Ahrens)

Why did Sven Ahrens join Forskerforbundet? It is a decades-long story.

In 2004, Sven counted his belongings. He had a car, but no apartment. His possessions fit neatly in two suitcases.

Up until this point in his career, Sven had been something of a vagabond, always on the move. After studying classical archaeology in Berlin, he wrote his doctorate while splitting his time between Seville and London. Upon completion, his work took him to several different excavation sites in Spain, the Middle East and the North African coast.

But after years of traveling, he was looking forward to settling down.

He had a girlfriend in Norway. For five years, they had been living apart. He took a chance and settled down in Norway.

Longer contracts and better pay

In his new country, Sven met a group of young archaeologists. Many of them were working on short term summer contracts, and as the ground got colder and the days grew shorter, the work dried up.

“We were casual labourers,” Sven recalls. “We only worked during the summer season.”

Sven noticed early on that his new coworkers were members of Forskerforbundet. All of them.

“Forskerforbundet worked with us and engaged people in our situation. They pressured the institutions to give us better contracts.”

Sven remembers that the union secured better rights for the young group of archaeologists. They got better pay and longer contracts.

“That’s why I joined the union,” he says.

Like fire insurance

Now, Sven works at the Norwegian Maritime Museum, where he manages the museum’s exhibitions and research. He also writes papers and leads research projects in Norway, Greece and Portugal.

Sven is now an experienced archaeologist with a steady job. Why is he still a union member, 15 years after joining? He says there are many benefits: free courses, help with salary negotiation, and a free dinner at the Christmas party (“The dinner is of course not necessary, but it is very nice,” he says.).

But there is one particular benefit that he wouldn’t want to be without.

“If I ever experience conflict at work, the union will help me. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened, but some of my colleagues have been through that. If things get serious, the union will help me. A representative will meet with me and my employer, and even support me if the disagreement goes to court.”

“To be alone in that kind of situation is almost unbearable. You’d have to fight alone, get a lawyer and pay for it all yourself. I feel safe knowing that the union is on my side. It’s like a fire insurance: you don’t think your house will burn down, but if it does, you’re covered.”

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