The Spanish science system is not going through its best moment. At least, when it comes to the working conditions of researchers. There are already many voices calling for the need to address the problem of temporary employment in order to build a quality, stable and consolidated scientific research system that prevents researchers from fleeing to other countries. In view of the latest legislative ups and downs in this matter, we wanted to make some reflections that help understand the current situation.
The research carried out in the Public Research Organizations (OPI) in the CSIC, and in the universities depends, for the most part, on personnel with temporary contracts within the framework of different research projects. These are financed, awarded and executed from competitive calls, especially the State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation (PEICTI) and the European framework programme.
As these projects have a fixed duration (between three and five years), temporary hiring may seem logical. This means that, once the projects are finished, the researchers have to look for new contracts (which sometimes means waiting months). This high temporality increases precariousness, poverty and limits their mobility.
Labor reform and a new contract for science
For this reason, the Government proposed changes to the Science Law and enacted RD 32/2021 on labor reform, which eliminated the contract for work and service. Although an adaptation period of three months was set to apply the reform, the Government did not foresee a problem, and not a minor one. The procedure to modify the Science Law –which included a new indefinite contract– was being delayed. Either something was done, and fast, or thousands of researchers would go unemployed. The solution: RD 8/2022.
Thus, the entry into force of the “scientific-technical activities contract” (articles 23.bis and 32.bis LCTI), of indefinite duration and linked to lines of research, not subject to public job offer or replacement rate, was brought forward. (therefore, outside the scope of the budget law).
But haste has never been a good adviser. The 5th additional provision (DA) of the labor reform still allowed for fixed-term contracts in the scientific field, associated with the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR), or programs financed with European funds (European Research Council either Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, for instance). Those researchers were left out of the reform. Back to time.
This was not only a step backwards, but an inconsistency that was also discriminatory. In the same research group, indefinite contracts could be given (article 23.bis is already in force) if its financing came from national or private entities; while those who had obtained a share Marie Curie They would have temporary contracts.
The amendments in the Congress and the Senate
An amendment by United We Can (converted into DA 10 of the Science Law) eliminated the difference in treatment by clarifying that DA 5 of the labor reform would only apply when the financing executes the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan, or comes from non-competitive European funds.
But the Popular Party presented another amendment in the Senate that eliminated the DA 10ª. The SOMMA alliance – which includes the Severo Ochoa and María de Maetzu centers and units of excellence, managers of most of the European funds – asked the parliamentarians to vote in favor.
The main reasons for rejecting equalization of hiring were based on two arguments:
Not being able to carry out temporary contracts will increase the expenses of the research organizations (due to the compensation for termination of the contract that goes up from 12 to 20 days for indefinite contracts, since it has to be covered by the budget of each research center).
Defend that the science system needs the “flexibility” that temporary contracts give.
A new Science Law
The Senate amendment was finally rejected, and DA 10a remains in the final text of the Science Law, which will improve the stability of research personnel.
However, we cannot ignore another reality: maintaining lines of research with stable funding, through the general state budget, is what will really make precariousness disappear and strengthen the science system as a whole. Otherwise, the indefinite contracts that are made will also end in dismissals and severance pay.
Even so, financing is not everything. Changes must be faced in the management of human resources dedicated to research. An alternative to the civil service system, very rigid, would be the figure of the public employee following the statutory model of health personnel. This would make it possible to eliminate salary differences and other management problems, such as those derived from the different contracting modalities between OPIs of the General State Administration and the Autonomous Communities.
In “The Origins of Political Order,” Francis Fukuyama characterizes political decline as the inability of institutions to adapt to changing needs, with “legions of stakeholders” opposing any fundamental change. If we have learned anything in these years of the pandemic, it is that we must be prepared to face unexpected situations, that the institutions have to adapt their structures, and that the legislator must have a high-minded vision. Science and innovation are essential to respond to the needs of society.