PhD Rights

PhDs have rights, which are outlined in the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, commonly referred to as the CAO. However, only PhDs who are employed by the University are entitled to these rights, which means that external PhDs are excluded. The CAO contains provisions regarding salary and payments, supervision, leave (including vacation, maternity, birth, parental and sick), teaching, career development, conflict and assistance, and end of contract. Het PNN have put together a useful and more accessible overview of your rights as a PhD.

What do you do if you feel like your rights as a PhD have not been respected? Reach out to one of the options listed below for help and support.

Your Supervisor

The first port of call for questions or concerns regarding your contract and rights is to talk to your supervisor. Raise your concerns and see what advice, suggestions or solutions they offer. It is best to keep written documentation of your efforts, such as email exchanges. If you are not happy with their response, you can then escalate the problem to the PhD Counsellor and/or Confidential Counsellor for PhDs.

PhD Counsellor/Confidential Counsellor for PhDs

The Confidential Counsellor for PhDs is able to provide help and advice specific to your situation and Institute. Some institutes, particularly in the Faculty of Humanities, also have a PhD Counsellor, who are deeply embedded in the Institute, easily approachable and there if you are in need of a confidential talk, advice or a helping hand. Although PhD Counsellors are not trained as confidential advisors, they do however have extensive experience with all kind of PhD related issues.

LEO & PhDoc

You can always reach out to LEO ( or PhDoc ( for advice and to check whether or not something is common or normal practice at Leiden University. If you have not been successful in addressing your concerns with your supervisor or the Confidential Counsellor for PhDs, we will do our best to support you and connect you with the people who can help you further.


Het PNN, or PhD Network Netherlands, is the national interest group for and by PhDs affiliated to one of the fourteen Dutch universities, one of the eight Academic Medical Centers, or one of the five research institutions. You can always reach out to Het PNN at if you have any questions or concerns about the rights of PhDs in the Netherlands. Furthermore, their website is a great source of information – including an accessible overview of PhD rights.

Labour Union

It is often wrongly assumed that labour conditions are determined unilaterally by your employer. This is a misconception. Without the contribution of labour unions in the Netherlands, working conditions would look very different. There are many different labour unions in the Netherlands. The labour union most relevant for PhDs is AOb, the trade union for educational staff working in primary education, secondary schools, secondary vocational education, colleges and universities. AOb has an FAQ page dedicated to PhDs.

As a union member you are not on your own in the event of a conflict with your employer. In that case, it is essential to make sure that you understand the full implications of your contract. Legal unions have specialised legal staff who can go line by line through agreements and discuss all the potential problems that might affect you as an individual, depending on your circumstances. You need to pay a monthly fee (typically less than 20EUR/month) to join the union, 40% of which you can claim back through the University.