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Press release: TU Berlin – Harassment in Junior Research Group

Published on Oct 13, 2016 Tags: , ,
A group of scientists working at Technische Universität Berlin (TUB) have been facing repercussions at work after they spoke up for better working conditions.

While doing fieldwork in Uruguay during Winter 2015/2016, the scientists from the BMBF Junior Research Group "RuralFutures" had to work in conditions that put their health in risk. The extreme work schedules with more than 10 hours per day and no days off, the unsuitable provision of accommodation, unsafe and incomplete equipment, the poor planning and organization of the project, and, above all, the authoritarian manner of the group leader contributed to creating dangerous working conditions. When they notified the responsible project leader about these issues, their situation was ignored.

After a skype consultation with unionists of the education section of the FAU Berlin, the colleagues contacted the TUB personnel board which had a discussion with the leader and arranged to bring the researchers back to Berlin immediately. Since then, these Latin American scientists have been isolated from their project, pressured and harassed.

For half a year, the TUB has had access to a comprehensive documentation about the events in Uruguay and of the repercussions in Berlin. The continuous harassment at work within the research group is well known through all levels of hierarchy at the university, even up to the president Christian Thomsen. But the university has not reacted in a form suitable to improve the situation. It is suspected that the reasons for this inaction stems from project funding amounting to several million euro from the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) that is tied to the project leader personally within the framework of BMBF Junior Research Groups. Apparently, the project leader's actions have been green lighted by and within the TUB.

"In our view, the TUB is responsible for the structural harassment at work," comments Mika Peters, secretary of FAU Berlin, "the university administration ignores or even tolerates the continuous infringement of essential labour rights. It is very worrying to think that third-party funds may override basic standards."

The goal of the education section of the FAU Berlin is to make the TUB finally fulfill their duty of care towards their employees and to guarantee the compliance with basic labor standards within TUB research groups. Concretely, the education section demands the relocation of two of the scientists to a healthy working place within TU Berlin, to continue their research and obtain their PhD.

The FAU Berlin has filed a lawsuit at the labour court of Berlin and will keep the interested international public informed.

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