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Freedom — The university must appear politically neutral. So 1 May should no longer be a paid day off, the management argues. Moreover, says the university director, the University of Copenhagen cannot afford to have more off-days than other universities. Staff representative says that its abolition will backfire.
The rumours have been swirling, and they turned out to be the truth. Management at the University of Copenhagen now confirms that it will abolish staff rights to take the day off on the international labour day 1 May.
The paid day off, according to university management, is a so-called customary right for employees, that can be abolished if it gives notice of it.
The final decision will still be taken after a discussion in the university’s main staff-management collaboration committee (HSU), where managers and staff representatives regularly meet and negotiates working conditions.
Rector presented three arguments for dropping 1 May in a memorandum from the university’s HR department dated 11 September 2019:
First of all, the University of Copenhagen »needs to appear to be politically neutral and does not want to send out the kind of political statement that a paid 1 May holiday would be.«
Secondly, management counts on the scrapping of this holiday will result in a DKK 8 million gain, equivalent to 15 full-time jobs. But only in the administration.
According to the memorandum, productivity for researchers is expected to remain unchanged, regardless of whether the day is abolished or not, because researchers are already employed without an upper limit on the number of hours worked.
The third argument offered by management to abolish the customary paid day off 1 May is that the university »wants to be in line with the Modernisation Agency, where a granted day off on 1 May should take place at the employee’s own expense.« They refer here to a 1963 memo.
The Modernisation Agency, which is a part of the Ministry of Finance and negotiates collective agreements for the government, has not, however, expressed any opinion one way or the other about what the University of Copenhagen line should be:
»Our position in the Modernisation Agency is that it is up to the individual institution whether staff should get the day off with pay on 1 May,« the agency writes in an email to the University Post.
The University of Copenhagen, however, is the only university in Denmark that offers its employees a paid day off 1 May. Its abolition thereby puts it in line with other universities.
»The most important reason why we want to abolish the day off is that we are in a situation where we are pinched in terms of finances. In this situation, it is difficult to explain why we are awarding more days off to staff than other universities do. The University of Copenhagen is the only university where employees have a day off 1 May, and UCPH cannot afford more than the other universities,« says Jesper Olesen, Director of the University of Copenhagen.
»We are actually under more pressure than the others because we have a larger part of our buildings under the SEA scheme (the government building lease scheme, which is designed to turn a profit to the government and is therefore expensive to universities, ed.)«
The main argument for abolishing 1 May as a paid day off is not that the day off is a political statement. But who would argue that taking the day off on 1 May is not a political statement?
University director Jesper Olesen
»But this is a custom that we have had for a very long time, so we have to discuss it with the HSU committee and give notice of what we plan to do,« he says.
»The main argument for abolishing 1 May as a paid day off is not that the day off is a political statement,« says Jesper Olesen. »But who would argue that taking the day off on 1 May is not a political statement?«
In the memo to the HSU, management estimates that the abolition of 1 May amounts to a net gain of DKK 8 million.
»In larger departments, they will be able to feel that staff have an extra working day, and this alleviates some of the pressure we all feel. In principle, you can handle more work tasks with the same number of staff if you have one day less of paid leave. We can reap this as a stress-relieving benefit.«
Jesper Olesen says that there are differences in how much that staff care about 1 May.
»In several departments, there is quite a lot of activity already on 1 May. Not all staff groups are diligent in taking that day off.«
Even before it was officially confirmed that the university management wanted to cut the employees’ paid day off 1 May, several staff representatives protested.
»This is a punch in the face to the staff that are really dedicated. It is small-minded,« said Ingrid Kryhlmand, who is staff representative for all HK union-organised staff at the University of Copenhagen and the vice-chair of the HSU to the University Post.
The representative for academic administrative staff is also opposed to the measure.
»This is petty, nickel and dime, thinking,« says AC-TAP staff representative Signe Møller Johansen. »There are not many perks when you are a public-sector employee. And when you do not pay well, you might be able to give something else on this point.«
I see this as a kind of ‘spreadsheet management’, and they need to be careful it won’t lead to a backlash. If our managers start being strict in their calculation of hour numbers, then the employees can start too. And this, I don’t think, will necessarily end up being of benefit to management.
AC staff representative Signe Møller Johansen
»I see this as a kind of ‘spreadsheet management’, and they need to be careful it won’t lead to a backlash. If our managers start being strict in their calculation of hour numbers, then the employees can start too. And this, I don’t think, will necessarily end up being of benefit to management.
»I believe that there are greater productivity gains to be had in promoting trust between management and staff, and creating an attractive workplace.«
Signe Møller Johansen says that if the current scheme where staff have a day off 1 May is a ‘political statement’, as the management writes in its memo on 1 May, then this also applies to the announcement that it wants to abolish the time-honoured day off:
»It sends out the message that they consider the university a kind of corporation, where managers supervise employees, and where managers tightly control productivity. And I believe that this clashes with the culture of today, where there is space for your own ideas, and where there is a flat structure with an independent responsibility for solving assignments.«
On Facebook, a group of staff at the university have discussed the prospect of losing a day off. Several staff say that it will be difficult to find daycare for their children, because institutions and schools are often closed 1 May.