Court: scholarship PhDs at UMCG are not employees

Last week, the district court decided that the scholarship PhDs at the UMCG aren’t employees, which means they’re not entitled to the same pay as their fellow employed PhD candidates.

Forty-eight scholarship PhDs who started between 2016 and 2018 as part of the Scholarship PhD Experiment had taken legal action against the hospital. They were hired through a subsidised scholarship and don’t have an employment contract.

While the conditions under which the scholarship PhDs have been hired differ from those that apply to their fellow employed PhD candidates, the scholarship PhDs claim that in reality, they do the same work. Work for which they are paid less, which doesn’t give them vacation pay or an end-of-year bonus, and which doesn’t count towards their pension.


Nevertheless, last week the court decided there is a genuine difference between them and employed PhD candidates. For instance, scholarship PhDs don’t have to teach, they can choose the subject of their PhD track themselves, and they can pick their own supervisor. They also don’t receive a salary, but a subsidy from the ministry of education. Besides, the court said, they knew from the start that they were entering into a ‘educational agreement’.

The scholarship PhDs are disappointed at the verdict, their lawyer Dino Jongsma said: ‘They work alongside colleagues who do the exact same work, and the district court is now saying this doesn’t constitute work activities. He says it’s an educational agreement and that they are students. They feel very differently, since their work contributes to the UMCG’s core tasks.’


The scholarship PhDs also weren’t pleased that the court took their social position into account in the verdict. The judge compared their position to other professional groups that ‘sought protection under labour law’, such as meal delivery drivers or foreign workers at the Groningen shipyards. 

The judge said that in comparison to those people, the scholarship PhDs have a much more ‘promising position’. ‘That means they’re more likely to find a job in the future’, says Jongsma. According to the judge, that doesn’t bear any relation to the other professional groups. ‘But the issue is their current position’, says Jongsma. ‘And compared to other PhD candidates, it’s much less promising.’

The scholarship PhDs haven’t yet decided whether they’ll accept this verdict. ‘We have the opportunity to appeal’, says Jongsma, ‘and were seriously considering it.’

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