Why do temporary scientific employees need an ombudsperson?

Gabriela Kazimiera Warden is president in Dion. - We hope that NTNU leadership will hear the voices of temporary scientific staff and understand that there is a need for an ombudsperson, the Board argues.
Publisert Sist oppdatert

Written by the DION board.

DION is an interest organization for all temporary scientific employees at NTNU, and we have representatives in all three NTNU cities. The recent discussion about stipendiatombud is happening mostly in Norwegian, so we would like to express our opinion in English, in an attempt to reach many more of the temporary scientific employees, especially the newly employed ones who do not speak Norwegian and are the most vulnerable.

The ongoing discussion in the media is focusing on a potential conflict between a PhD- candidate and their supervisor. While some argue that there are guidelines and rules in place that make the process of reporting and conflict management possible, others point out to the things that are missing or are not good enough. We strongly agree with the latter. As DION, we are one of the first organization that PhD-candidates contact in order to get help in this type of situations, and we see that there is a common link between the cases, which is that the candidates are often afraid of speaking up and getting help. From our experience, people in conflict situations that contact us are even uncomfortable discussing their experiences by email and ask for a personal meeting, which is an indicator of how paralyzing these situations can be. It is often related to the fact that they afraid about its possible outcome and job opportunities in the future. The guidelines say one should deal with the conflict at the lowest possible administrative level, but this is arguably exactly the reason why it is hard: the environment can be so hermetic, and one simply doesn’t want to be looked upon as a “snitch” or someone that’s “problematic”. To summarize: yes, local the guidelines do exist, but they simply do not work. We would argue that if they did, DION would not be receiving such a high number of inquiries related to that.

Another pathway to solving this type of conflicts is to contact your union. However, as a group that consists, in a large percentage, of non-Norwegians, temporary scientific employees often do not know that they can become a member of a union or they, especially the newly employed ones, are hesitant to join them due to the cultural differences and skeptical attitudes that may exit towards unions in their home countries. Therefore, many feel like they are alone without any possibility of reaching out. As DION, we can only help with facilitating the communication between the parties, but we neither have the capacity nor relevant competence to help the candidate. Besides, due to above mentioned challenges that exist regarding the guidelines, even DION struggles to find a relevant body or professional that the PhD candidates ban be redirected to in such cases. Therefore, we think that an ombudsperson is a necessary position that could help all scientific employees if a conflict situation arises. Oftentimes the investigation on how to proceed further and whom to reach out in the first place, takes a lot of time, increases the stress level for the PhD candidates, and even delays their research. Ombudsperson would be a person who would have a clear and unambiguous responsibility regarding handling this kind of issues. This will significantly decrease the time needed to resolve these problems and protect the PhD candidates from the stress they are going through during conflicts.

Moreover, we think that it is not only conflict management that should be part of a potential ombudsperson work areas. Some other common problem areas among the temporary staff are

the extension policy of their contracts; the hiring process, including salary negotiations; internal recruitment to higher positions; internal recruitment for other temporary positions in exchange for extension of their contract; inequality among PhD candidates. These are just a few examples of what we have come in contact with as an organization, and we have a great trust that if an ombudsperson for temporary scientific employees would be hired, these could be solved faster and more effectively as compared to now. It would create an independent platform for the staff and make the conflict management (but also everything else mentioned above) more efficient. It would also erase the initial fear of being problematic, if there is a designated person that deals with these matters competently.

We hope that NTNU leadership will hear the voices of temporary scientific staff and understand that there is a need for an ombudsperson.