Congress approves the Science Law with an amendment to increase indefinite contracts for researchers

News in the Science Law, which is already on its way to the Senate. The plenary session of Congress has approved at the last minute some amendments by United We Can and More Country that improve certain aspects that scientists rejected from the new law.

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The main changes with respect to the text that entered the Lower House this morning are that the obligation to sign indefinite contracts is extended to researchers who work on projects financed with competitive European funds – a group that had been left out of this measure, which is coming of the labor reform – and two changes aimed at considering technical and management personnel as part of the research staff so that they can develop their professional career.

With the Draft Law to reform Law 14/2021, of June 1, on Science, Technology and Innovation, the Government intends to increase financing for the scientific sector, reduce precariousness by forcing indefinite contracts for almost everyone assumptions and streamline bureaucracy, among other issues.

While the latest amendments were being debated in plenary, fifty researchers demonstrated in front of the lower house called by CC OO to protest what they consider a failed reform that falls short, although they admit that the approved amendments improve the text. The low salaries of predoctoral researchers, the fact that a multi-year plan is not established to guarantee the investment or the, they consider, insufficient commitment to the return of emigrated talent are some of the elements that researchers still reject.

“With the amendments that have just been approved, the working conditions of research personnel are substantially improved. It gives a total return to what we had yesterday, although there are important things that must be improved that we hope will be done apart from the law, ”says Elisa Fernández, Employment delegate in the General State Administration of the CCOO. "The union struggle of the research staff and the effort in collective bargaining have borne fruit," she claims. The Federation of Young / Precarious Researchers (FJI) agrees on the idea: the law is better than the one that existed and this project is also better than the previous one with the amendments, but things are still missing.

The law goes ahead without a single vote against.

Indefinite for (almost) everyone

The probably star measure, which the scientific sector is already noticing, does not strictly emanate from the law, although it is included in it as well. After the labor reform, researchers will go from having temporary contracts for work and service to indefinite contracts. Until today, those who obtained funds from competitive European projects through calls such as Marie Curie or Horizon Europe had been left out of this improvement; the amendment presented by UP and approved by the Plenary corrects this dysfunction. "It is the greatest achievement that we have been able to achieve, it did not make sense that indefinite contracts were signed for the national calls but not for the European ones," Fernández values.

This measure, they explain from UP, affects 45% of researchers in Spain. “According to data from CC OO, this amendment will reduce temporary employment to less than half. For example, in the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), with 13,500 workers, it is expected to go from 45% temporary employment to 20%-24%. The rest are the contracts for calls from the State Research Agency, pre-doctoral and post-doctoral, which are inherently temporary”, they argue. These and the contracts linked to the EU's Next Generation funds – temporary by definition – are the ones left out of the application of the labor reform, which restricted the use of temporary contracts in many cases.

From the ministry they emphasize that "these contracts in the public sector will not require prior authorization when they are fully financed with external or competitive funds, which will speed up the hiring of these people" and, regarding temporary contracts, "that the computation of the duration of these temporary contracts during the time dedicated to permits and leaves of absence for conciliation reasons (maternity, paternity, permits or leaves of absence for the care of minors or dependent family members, among other circumstances)”.

The department directed by Diana Morant also intends to clarify the research career and make it shorter and more predictable until stabilization (currently it exceeds ten years after the doctorate). To do this, evaluations are introduced from the second year of the contract that may lead to a salary increase and the possibility of obtaining a certificate, called R3, which grants advantages such as avoiding some of the tests necessary to access a tenured scientific position and they have reserved quotas in replacement contracts (to replace retirees) both in Public Research Organizations (OPIs) and in Universities.

Improvements for technical and management staff

The other great novelty introduced in the law this morning has been the incorporation of technical and management personnel in the norm, perhaps the other great union demand in addition to the extension of indefinite contracts. One of the approved amendments modifies the Basic Statute of the Public Employee to change the term “investigative personnel” to “investigative personnel”, a subtle difference that entails the inclusion of these profiles, also basic for the investigation process, in certain improvements and that opens the door, normative development through, to a research career.

Another of the issues most celebrated by the scientific community is that the law includes for the first time the right to compensation for the termination of the contract of predoctoral researchers (those who are preparing their thesis), a historical claim of the sector and that will benefit the new contracts, but also those currently in force.

But the predoctoral part is one of the most criticized by research associations. Fernández, from CCOO, regrets that "the salaries of the predocs continue to touch the International Minimum Wage (SMI), it is not logical that people with the highest educational preparation start working in research with less than a thousand euros per month", he laments, complaint which it shares with the FJI.

Finance and bureaucracy

In the debit section, Fernández regrets that the law does not establish a multi-year investment plan because these items will be set each year through the budgets, which leaves the sector's financing at the mercy of "economic cycles," he maintains. From the Ministry of Science they explain that the sixth additional provision does speak of "multi-annual budget framework" and specifies the figure of 1.25% of GDP as a financing target for 2030, which would equalize Spain with the European average.

Other measures included in the law are the development of the career of the research staff of the National Health System (SNS), measures to attract emigrated talent (expelled by precariousness?), improvement of the transfer of knowledge, such as the creation of a six-year period of transfer or reduction of bureaucracy (it will allow justifying subsidies by sampling and not in their entirety) and measures to promote equality in the sector, such as the obligation for "public agents of the system" to have protocols against sexual harassment or the creation of a gender equality badge for research centers, universities or innovation centers that will bring them benefits.

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