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TU Conflict: basic challenges remain

Published on Dec 18, 2016 Tags: , ,
After a long struggle of organized PhD students with the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB), FAU Berlin reached a reasonable settlement at Labor Court. The TUB agreed on granting a compensation of a higher four-digit Euro amount to each of the two fighting PhD students. While the specific case is coming to an end, it reveals serious deficiencies in the university employment system. We aim to address these deficiencies and start a discussion about organizing strategies at universities in Berlin.

The first hearing occurred at the end of November at the Berlin Labor Court. An agreement was reached for both of the FAU-members that sued their employer, the Technische Universität Berlin. In the settlement, the TUB had to agree to several conditions. These included ending the working contract by the end of February 2017, writing a good reference letter and paying compensation charges to each of the affected members. The original claim was for damages and relocation within the TUB because of workplace bullying; but even before court the TUB failed to respond to their claim. For the union, this once again has created the impression that the managing directors see themselves unwilling or unable to recognize their duty of care to their employees.


It is unfortunate not to be able to continue our work relationship with the TU, which is what we felt we deserved. Still, I feel satisfied because despite this unfair situation, we managed to make demands and reach the public. Now, I can at least finish the case with my head held high. Without FAU support I would have gone back to my country without even my dignity,” says Gimena Vilardo.

In my opinion, our case sets a potential precedent of students fighting for their rights. They are able to obtain justice. It also emphasizes that PhD students need to organize for better working conditions,” states Maria Tobar.


So, what does this case tell about the working conditions at universities?

Once more, academic structures have proven to be rigid and authoritarian; whether students are successful in academia or not depends enormously on their supervisor. The dependency on the goodwill of supervisors is a result of the fact that professors are supposed to be consultant and superior at the same time. When PhD students decide to take issue with their working conditions, they face a long line in a hierarchical system in which all responsibilities come to nothing. Offers from universities to negotiate and solve the conflict often do not aim at the students' interests, but rather at calming them down to keep research projects running. The case of our comrades and its repercussions clearly demonstrate that there is an urgent need for solidarity and independent organizations at universities.


We expect the university to fully implement the agreement. Not only in this specific case, but also for the future: if we want to go further and change something sustainably, we need independent trade union structures at universities,” says FAU secretary Mika Peters.

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