The researcher who left his career in Finland to return to Spain and ended with an unfair dismissal at the CSIC

The researcher who left his career in Finland to return to Spain and ended with an unfair dismissal at the CSIC

Alejandro Pedregal had his research career on track in Finland after 15 years living in the country. He was working as a university professor, but the possibility of returning to Spain to work in the main public research body, the CSIC, arose. He liked her and he took her, even if he meant giving up salary and job status, under the promise of a contract of at least two years. Twelve months later he was on the street. Now he has the moral victory – and a small economic compensation – that supposes that a judge recognizes that his dismissal was inappropriate, but he has remained on the street.

The case is one of the latest battles for wrongdoing in the investigative world. On the one hand, the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), a state agency, and on the other, Alejandro Pedregal, until recently a postdoctoral researcher in a project at the center. Between the two, the Social Court number 41 of Madrid, which has declared that the dismissal suffered by the scientist at the end of 2021 was inappropriate. For Pedregal it is a half victory because he aspired to a null dismissal for violation of fundamental rights by the main investigator of the project, something that the judge rejected. It is his turn to return to the Nordic country, to start from the starting point.

In the sentence, to which this newspaper has had access and resolved at the end of April, the judge declares that not all abuse of power can be considered harassment. Pedregal was prescribed antidepressants due to the labor conflict, but for the magistrate "it cannot only be decisive that an illness arises that can be linked in some way to a conflictive labor situation." She also highlights the judge that workplace harassment is marked by intensity and intention, and "the verification of a type of objective situation and felt by the worker, which generates a hostile environment."

The prosecutor maintained that it had been verified that the contract was made in fraud of law and that the main investigator participated both "in the hiring and in the dismissal" of Pedregal and that he is responsible for these events, despite the fact that the unfair dismissal is assumed by him the advice. The sentence establishes compensation of 33 days per year worked for Pedregal, as established by the current labor reform, a figure that with only one year worked is almost anecdotal for the researcher. As for the null dismissal, the ex officio prosecutor believes that there are indications of harassment, but that they cannot be proven.

"The matter is definitive on how judges work in the workplace and they take it easy so as not to set uncomfortable precedents for companies or the State," Alejandro Pedregal values ​​the sentence. He also believes that having recognized the violation of fundamental rights "would serve as an example to curb the precarious structure" of research in Spain. Regarding his case, he is convinced that he is not the only one who "has experienced something like this in Spain", but adds that when he is denounced "it is possible to fight against the legitimization of abuse".

The situation experienced by Pedregal is not exceptional in the sector. The precarious situation and the subordinate relationships between scientists are well known among researchers. satins and project managers. To understand the entire process, you have to go back to 2019, when he and the person who would end up being his boss, the main investigator Jaime Vindel, met at a Congress.

Pedregal lived in Finland. He had a work contract as a university professor until 2023. Shortly before the pandemic, Vindel offered him a research position under a work and service contract for three years in his project for the CSIC History department: 'Fossil Aesthetics'. "I accepted it because the project interested me and I wanted to return to Spain, even lowering the salary and the job. The contract only had a start date, but Vindel assured me of a minimum two-year contract," Pedregal points out. "Under that promise I left a life behind in another country," he stresses.

For Vindel, consulted by this newspaper, it is the project that had a duration of three years, but the contract did not have to coincide with its duration. "The problem is that no one indicated that the contract was conditional on certain variables and I was leaving a life behind," counters Pedregal. In any case, "one of the elements for which my dismissal is inappropriate is because my contract is for work and service and I am dismissed without having finished the work or that there is a disciplinary or objective justification for dismissing me," he explains about the judgment.

Pedregal began work in January 2021. That's where the irregularities began. "They told me that he had to manage and translate the contents of a web page of the project for which he already hired people," details Pedregal. After six months, Vindel reproached Pedregal for not getting involved enough in the work. "I had organized congresses and conferences on the project, publications, I put in a book of mine —of which I offered Vindel to be a co-author and on which part of the project would be based—, I linked some seminars at the Cultural Center of Spain in Mexico... I was so surprised the accusation that I offered to account for my work, since we were teleworking," highlights Pedregal.

Although the principal investigator does not have the authority to dismiss the members of a research project —it is something that corresponds to the CSIC—, Vindel explains that it is his "obligation and responsibility to define the scientific lines of the project and issue reports on the performance of the researchers". In his opinion, he adds, "Pedregal had not made a single advance in relation to the book." For the plaintiff, "this is false", and he has provided this newspaper with advances with accredited dates on the work carried out.

Not only did the workload increase, but also the overtime. "My schedule became from morning to night and working on weekends," explains Pedregal. "During the summer holidays he wrote to me asking about work, violating the digital rest law."

Here comes the end of summer. On the day the researcher was going to deliver the work, he received an email. Jaime Vindel told him in it that he had decided not to continue in the project as of December 2021. Despite not having the power to fire in the public administration, Vindel added a threat: "I will send a list of tasks that you must carry out within the established deadlines. In case there is any further delay, I will immediately proceed to process the resolution of the contract".

Pedregal had brought the situation to the attention of the department head. Faced with his refusal to help, he put him in contact with the director of the CSIC's Institute of History and she with a union delegate from the CCOO, from the same department. "Both were surprised and empathized with my situation and indicated that it is something unacceptable," details Pedregal. The director decides to mediate and talk to the person in charge of the project.

The tense situation escalated, as did the workload. "He wanted us to complete 70-100 pages in a month, with weekly installments, for an editorial project." "This is on top of all the work I already had and it sent my stress levels through the roof," Pedregal describes.

Seeing his mental health situation, the mediators advised the researcher to see a doctor. He was discharged and prescribed antidepressants. "He barely slept and had disturbed eating habits." The IP continued to write to him despite his discharge, which lasted until December.

As of that month he rejoined and finished his job. "Knowing everything, neither the director of the Institute, nor the union representative, nor the management of the CSIC tried to make Vindrel see that my dismissal was not motivated," laments Pedregal. With the sentence, Pedregal accepts having to return to Finland and rebuild his life there from scratch. "In Spain the doors have been closed to me."

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