The PP and ERC frustrate the Science Law. The Republican Group has changed its opinion and supported a PP amendment that has prevented the new norm from being approved. The text, to update the 2011 regulations, will return to Congress. And it returns diminished, without one of the measures that the unions and associations of researchers had valued the most and which was aimed at increasing the indefinite hiring of researchers in the public sector, as a consequence of the popular amendment that ERC has supported, which it shares senatorial group with Bildu and have voted together.
The nightmare of requesting a public contract to investigate in Spain
Only three weeks ago the Republican Group had voted in Congress in favor of this same measure that it now rejects. What is in dispute in this case is, broadly speaking, the use of European competitive funds: UP had managed, with the support of the usual partners of the Government, to introduce an amendment at the last moment of the process of the Lower House so that the researchers had indefinite contracts and not temporary ones like now. That way, they would have more stability and higher compensation for dismissal.
The alternative, defended at first by the PP, Vox and Junts, was that the researchers continue to have temporary contracts under the argument that the amendment approved by the Government was going to increase the expenses of the research organizations. The former converging group put the cost for the Generalitat at 1,500 million euros. Under this argument Junts seems to have convinced its ERC government partner to change their position and knock down what until now was the tenth additional provision of the law.
Group sources explain that an assessment was made from the Generalitat and it has been decided to prioritize the financing of the projects (linkage to European funds) while working to make the contracts permanent. "ERC will always watch over the interest and well-being of workers," explain sources from the group.
CCOO considers that these arguments are a misrepresentation of the indefinite contract of scientific-technical activities. "The increase from 12 to 20 days per year in the payment of compensation is impossible for it to amount to 1,500 million euros," explains its spokesperson, Elisa Fernández. “In addition, with temporary contracts you have to pay compensation at the end of the contract. With indefinite contracts, it would only be paid if the money for the line of research runs out (that is the difference between line and project) and it may never occur if the line has stable funding”, she adds.
With this change, the text returns to Congress, which will have to ratify or annul only the modification made by the Senate. Once the procedure has been completed, the law will be approved. What is worrying for the Government is that the change in the ERC's position alters the majorities: if it does not amend itself again, the measure will definitively disappear from the law.
With the Draft Law to reform Law 14/2021, of June 1, on Science, Technology and Innovation, the Government aims to increase funding for the scientific sector to reach the European average, reduce precariousness by forcing permanent contracts for almost all assumptions and simplify bureaucracy, among other issues. You can check the text here.
Organizations vs researchers
The parliamentary procedure has revealed a confrontation between public research organizations and at least some associations of researchers on account of indefinite or non-definite contracts in the administration, precariousness and money: what for some is necessary income, for others is limiting expenses. At the moment the organisms are winning.
In the middle of the afternoon the procedure seemed to be saved when the ERC senator Josep María Reniu Vilamala stated in his speech in the debate: “We are a progressive group, we are for stability. The investigation is no longer precarious”, although he has not explicitly mentioned that he was referring to this issue. From the group they clarify: “he has also said that 'we are committed to guaranteeing sufficient financing that allows research centers to have greater guarantees of operation'. Then the surprise would come.
A last minute change
Three weeks ago, UP managed to agree a few hours before the final vote on the law in Congress, amendment 59, which included a series of measures that, in the eyes of associations such as the Federation of Young/Precarious Researchers or CCOO, saved the law: the obligation to sign indefinite contracts was extended to researchers working on projects financed with competitive European funds –a group that had been left out of this measure, which comes from the labor reform– and the technical and management staff were now considered as part of the research staff so that they can develop their careers.
But several public research organizations, and also the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (Crue), are against this measure and have made it known through letters addressed to the groups in the Senate. Forcing public administration to carry out indefinite contracts for projects linked to competitive European funds – the most excellent – would imply an increase in spending for these entities that, they say, harm the organizations themselves, but also young researchers.
"We understand that this additional provision 10 [donde quedó plasmada la obligatoriedad de contratar indefinidos] it seeks to reduce the falsely temporary contracts that are chained (...)”, the rectors concede, “but the current wording would have a double enormously negative impact on the research system in Spain”. On the one hand, they say, "the cost of compensation would double" compared to a temporary contract (in reality, it goes from 12 days per year worked to 20); on the other, they add, the increase in layoffs (since there are no temporary contracts when the projects are finished, researchers have to be fired), will entail Occupation Regulation Files, "subjected to the works council". The research organizations put more focus on the "conflict" that they predict due to the dismissals, according to Ara.
Fernández, from CCOO, maintains that the argumentation of the CRUE and the centers of excellence "is pure and simple ideology." “It seems that the university, or at least its rectors, together with a group of excellent ones, prefers precarious workers and precarious workers, replaceable if they go out of the script, instead of stable, independent personnel and with the same labor rights as the rest. of the workers of the country. No country in Europe does it, but our Conference of Rectors demands it for our universities”.
The measure that was tied
United We Can, however, calculates that the amendment was going to affect 45% of researchers in Spain. “According to CCOO data, 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”, explains the training.
In Congress, the PSOE, ERC, Cs, Bildu, BNG and the CUP supported the UP amendment. It seemed tied. But the PP did not give up the battle and found allies in the research centers and the Crue. On Saturday afternoon the rumor began to spread: ERC was thinking of changing sides, squeezed by Junts thinking of the Catalan Government, which they both share. They say from the old Convergence that the measures introduced will cost Catalonia 1,500 million euros, among other things because they imply more indefinite contracts in the public administration, higher severance pay at the end of the contract and continuous hiring and firing. More money to pay for the administration. If ERC supported the amendment, the majorities changed.
Thus, the popular ones presented the 76th amendment in the Senate to knock down what was at the time the 59th amendment of the Congress. "The amendment is not even ours," Juan José Sanz Vitorio, popular spokesman, defended this Tuesday. “It is a request that the entire network of Severo Ochoa and María de Maeztu centers of excellence have sent us. The Crue has been added. And I wonder, are all the centers of excellence in this country wrong? Are all universities wrong? ”, He has justified.
The socialist José Latorre Ruiz gave him the reply and exposed the discrepancy in question: “The model of precariousness or the model of stability and rights. The investigators know who is on their side,” he maintained.
Shortly after, the ERC spokesman Josep Maria Reniu Vilamala clarified the position of his group, which had fueled the rumors the previous days, not denying that they were thinking of changing their position and supporting the PP amendment. “We are a progressive group, we are for stability. The investigation is no longer precarious,” he argued.
In general, the law seeks to reduce precariousness in the Spanish research sector, increase funding and reduce bureaucracy, among other issues. The probably star measure, which the scientific sector is already noticing, does not strictly emanate from the law, although it also includes it. 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.
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.
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.