The political consensus that won the new science law in Congress – passed unanimously – was shattered. The Senate vote on an amendment sponsored by the PP has produced a surprising result. The motion passed with a “yes” vote from its supporters, as well as those from Vox, PNV, Junts and Esquerra Republicana (ERC). Just a few weeks ago, this last party had voted for an amendment supported by Podemos and the unions that is now being suspended by the PP motion; which shows the tension between the government and the independentistas.

The underlying problem is job guarantees for the country’s best young researchers. The new science law aims to transfer the labor reform pushed by the government to the science system. The regulation is intended to put an end to the high degree of temporality in research centers, which particularly affected young and not so young scientists who tied fixed-term contracts well into their forties. The Science Act would guarantee all scientists who were previously employed on a fixed-term basis permanent contracts that would give them better working conditions – from higher severance pay to food or daycare checks.

Podemos managed to get a measure into the law that the government or the PSOE had not considered in principle: that these benefits not only protect researchers hired with Spanish public funds, but also those who receive funds from of the European Union. This second type of grant is the most generous and prestigious in the world of science and includes grants from the European Research Council. In general, the more grants of this type a research center receives, the more prestigious and competitive it becomes. Without the amendment introduced by Podemos – which received ERC support and PNV abstention in Congress – these scientists would still have a fixed-term contract with fewer rights than their nationally funded counterparts; a two-speed science.

Ahead of yesterday’s vote, 40 directors of the country’s top research centers – including those who manage most of the European funds – sent a letter to the political groups asking them to back the PP amendment, which scraps the Podemos-backed measure ; or that they amend the text to allow fixed-term contracts for scientists contracted with the competitive EU funds mentioned above. Without the PP amendment, this option would only exist for non-competitive funds that represent a minority in the public science system.

The research centers initiative is led by Luis Serrano, Director of the Center for Genomic Regulation of Barcelona ​​​​, funded by the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Ministry of Science and Innovation and private bodies such as the La Caixa Foundation. This veteran researcher and manager argues that there is a need to continue allowing fixed-term contracts to be chained.

“There is no other solution,” he says. “Either they change the law so that they can be fired and rehired on another project without having to make a public job offer and without considering chaining, or they fire people as soon as the first contract ends, and that will kill scientific careers. ‘ he predicts. This “would take us to the end of the current model of success and would be to bet on a model of the researcher as civil servant without having the funding to do so, and moreover only a minority would ensure this option while the large majority would be left out since it impossible to accommodate everyone in universities and research centers,” he adds. All the rectors of Spanish public universities (CRUE) sent an almost identical letter to put pressure on the senators.

The two letters that this newspaper had access to denounce the use of “false permanent contracts” as many of them must have a fixed duration. In addition, they argue that redundancy costs may double with the new norm – from 12 to 20 salary days per year worked – and that some European funds cannot by law be used to pay severance pay, which would force them to centers colleges out of their own pay funds.

This situation means additional work for the leading centers with many funds and also for the universities, some of which are very poor. For years, these organizations have been legally forced to hire workers who broke their chain of contracts in court, costing large research centers like CSIC millions.

The research centers also believe that this law puts the most competitive at a disadvantage and may result in “the most competitive centers” having to apply for an Employment Ordinance (ERE) every year.

The government considers it essential to equalize the employment situation of all scientists who are beneficiaries of the new contracts, regardless of the source of the funds, and they make it ugly for the research centers and the rectors to appear “as bosses”.

The PP amendment “makes this law worse”, criticized Science Minister Diana Morant in a press statement. “We are dealing with two different models. The temporary contracts that the PP defends and the permanent contracts that homologate us with Europe and that defend the government and the Socialist Party,” added the minister and member of the PSOE executive.

The CC OO trade union, which together with Podemos is the main promoter of the equality of work envisaged in the Podemos amendment, is very critical of the ERC and the research centers and rectors. “Gabriel Rufián, spokesman for the ERC Group, said in the State of the Union debate that nothing comes for free in politics,” denounced Elisa Fernández Núñez, the organization’s Labor and Youth Secretary, in a press release. “The question then is at what price did the researchers sell them,” he adds. “The new Science Act strengthens powerful research groups, makes a research career more attractive and improves working conditions for employees. Can you be fired if the research line is no longer funded? Yes, but it will be punished with a higher compensation. This encourages already trained and highly specialized employees to stay in THEIR job,” he adds.

What has changed for the ERC to join the right and defend the polar opposite of what it was supporting just a few weeks ago? A spokeswoman for the parliamentary group defended this with her vote for the PP amendment and, together with Vox and PNV, demanded “that the basic question be negotiated”, which, in her opinion, requires more state funds to finance the research lines that support the contracts of scientists . ‘What was proposed was not an improvement in workers’ rights, but impossible-to-enforce legislation condemning the viability of the centers receiving European funds, most of them Catalan and Basque,’ they explain from the ERC. On the coincidence with the right and Vox, they add: “Politics has contradictions and it is important to know which side you are on,” they add from the parliamentary group. The party is open to negotiations, they say.

Now the goal of the government and the Social Democrats is to persuade the respective groups to change their vote in view of the vote in the plenary session of the congress, which will take place either next week or just after the summer break. Government sources have confirmed to this newspaper that they intend to meet with research centers and principals “as often as necessary” to reconsider the situation.

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Source elpais.com

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