Residence Assistants no longer SSH employees
While the SSH-operated Frascati student house was hosting an opening celebration with people abseiling from the rooftop and confetti cannons on Thursday evening, Residence Assistants working and living in SSH houses across Groningen were faced with a dilemma.
No longer employed
On Monday, all Residence Assistants (RAs) for SSH throughout the Netherlands received a new contract from the Utrecht-based housing provider. The message informed them that while they could remain in their positions as Residence Assistants, they would no longer be officially employed by SSH as of 2016.
‘The RA expressly does not want to be employed by SSH’, the contract proposal reads.
The terms of the job will no longer be officially classified as ‘employment’ but rather ‘an assignment agreement’: ‘Both parties explicitly conform to the arrangement that there is no labour agreement but an assignment agreement instead, where an employer-employee relationship is non-existent and there is no reciprocal obligation.’
As such, SSH will no longer be responsible for providing insurance coverage for the students. ‘The amount of the agreed remuneration due for income tax and social insurance contributions (read: expenses) are the responsibility of the RA’, the text reads.
‘The amount payable by the SSH and RA is including these parts. RA shall bear the responsibility for the correct and timely payment of premiums and taxes.’
Since the students will have to seek alternative insurance and are no longer actual employees, the terms render the RA’s technically self-employed, which also requires special certification in the Netherlands to earn income.
Although the amount of compensation the RAs will receive is dependent upon the cost of their living quarters, financial compensation for many RAs will decrease dramatically after the new contract is implemented.
Their housing costs will continue to be covered, but starting on 31 December, RAs will no longer receive an actual income from SSH. They will only be paid 150 euros per month during the six peak months of the academic year when the most students move in and out: January, February, June, July, August and September.
RAs will also receive a prepaid telephone with ten euros of credit on it, according to the new contract. ‘Outside of these assignment compensations, SSH does not owe anything to the RA.’
On call 24 hours a day
In a document responding to questions from the RAs about the proposed changes, SSH clarifies that the group is still paying above the national minimum wage. The housing providers base that statement on a workweek of ten hours, but in Groningen, RAs live in the houses where they work and are effectively on call 24 hours a day.
Previously, RAs were paid roughly 350 euros per month in addition to having their rent covered by SSH.
‘The rent for a room versus the number of hours per week that RAs are estimated to work based on their tasks is proportional. On average, RAs work ten hours a week. Only in the busy months do the RAs work more than 10 hours per week. Therefore, an additional compensation of 150 euros will be offered.’
Less than 30 days
The RAs, who are typically Dutch students, were informed on Monday, 7 December of the proposed changes. Since the changes are meant to take effect on 31 December, that leaves RAs with less than 30 days time to attempt to find alternative accommodations if they choose not to accept the new contract terms.
Annemiek van Vondel, communications advisor for SSH, says that it is true that there is a new job description for the RAs, but that it is an internal matter.
‘That is something that we make agreements about and communicate to our RA’s, but we will not be giving a response to the UK about the matter.’
The contract changes have come in the aftermath of tighter rules under Dutch national housing law, making it illegal for housing providers such as SSH to collaborate with private investors. Student unions nation-wide have petitioned the House of Representatives to make exceptions for student housing in the law.
Earlier this week, Van Vondel said via email that SSH will either have to pay for new housing in Groningen themselves or in collaboration with housing corporations in the future.
SSH operates in university cities across the Netherlands, including Utrecht, Groningen, Rotterdam, Zwolle, Tilburg and Maastricht. SSH provides 1,700 short stay, reserved accommodation rooms in Groningen in buildings owned and maintained by housing corporations and has been in charge of housing for international students since January of 2015.