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How to raise wages for PhD candidates

By Guro Elisabeth Lind, chief negotiator Unio ((The Confederation of Unions for Professionals), State sector, and Jorunn Solgaard, chief negotiator Forskerforbundet (The Norwegian Association of Researchers).

16.10.2019

On October 14, Khrono reports of protest actions among PhD candidates against increased wage differences. As these increased differences are the result of an important breakthrough for Unio and Forskerforbundet in this year’s wage negotiations, we would like to explain why this happened, and what needs to be done to ensure higher wages for even more PhD candidates.

First of all: PhD candidates should earn more. This is important to ensure the recruitment to research in Norway, in order for talented young researchers not to opt out from a career in research in favour of more economically attractive career opportunities in other work areas.

Therefore, increased wages for PhD candidates has been a top priority for Unio and Forskerforbundet for decades, in both central and local negotiations. This has occasionally been a lonesome fight. Not many other trade unions in the public sector have PhD candidates near the top of their priority list. We do.

This is also why we know a little about what actually works in the fight for wage increase for PhD candidates. The one measure that has led to a wage increase from pay grade 30 in 1997 to pay grade 54 today, is adjustments at the central / national level.

It is practically impossible to get the other negotiating parties to agree on raising the wages for all PhD candidates in a single wage settlement.  The cost will be far too high for the other parties, of whom most are not that concerned with PhD candidates’ situation, to accept. The trick is to get all parties to agree on a wage increase for all newly hired PhD candidates. By doing this, the immediate cost is minimal, while the long-term impact is significant. History has taught us that this is the best way to raise the wage level for PhD candidates.

Since 1997, Unio and Forskerforbundet have succeeded 12 times in getting wage increases for newly hired PhD candidates; either by raising the minimum wages or by technical transfers to other pay frames. Without these adjustments at the national level, the wage level for PhD candidates would have been significantly lower.

Organize!

This year’s settlement resulted in as much as three additional pay grades for newly hired PhD candidates. This wage hike results in increased wage differences among the PhD candidates. We do of course understand that this feels unfair for those who end up with lower wages than colleagues with lower seniority. In our opinion, the employing institutions should have the same understanding, and make it a priority to even out the differences in the local negotiations. As the article in Khrono shows, a local initiative of this kind has been taken at the University of Bergen.

PhD candidates benefit in particular from collective solutions, because it is difficult for them  to get individual pay raises in local negotiations. Therefore, it is crucial that as many PhD candidates as possible choose to join a trade union. The more who organize, the fewer “free riders”, the greater the opportunity for a wage increase. The good news this fall is that Forskerforbundet has recruited 200 PhD candidates as new members, as the result of our campaign offering up to four months of free membership.

We have a clear call for the protesting PhD candidates: Join a union, and take the fight with your local employer. We are ready to help you.

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