Michele Catanzaro Barcelona – Jueves, 21/11/2019
Images: Anna Mas
The conflict between Catalan doctoral students and the Generalitat rises in tone. The group of young researchers Doctorandes in Lluita and the CGT union presented this Thursday morning a class action lawsuit before the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC). In it, they allege that the Government and Catalan universities are breaking the law that regulates their contracts, the Statute of Research Personnel in Training (EPIF).
The node of the conflict is the duration of the doctoral contracts. The EPIF, approved by the central government in March, states that if a young researcher has not finished his doctoral thesis within the first three years of the contract, it must be extended for another year. However, the contracts of the Generalitat (FI-AGAUR) and the majority of those of Catalan universities have a maximum duration of three years.
Govern and universities refuse to pay another year for lack of resources. In addition, they claim that EPIF applies only to explicitly extendable contracts. Doctorandes en Lluita believes that this position forces hundreds of doctoral students to finish the thesis by charging unemployment during the fourth year.
The Autonomous University of Barcelona is the only one that is extending the contracts. That is why it is the only one that is excluded from the complaint filed this Thursday. The collective conflict is a legal mechanism to settle the differences between workers and companies before a judge.
Labor Inspection Support
In July, Doctorandes en Lluita filed a complaint with the Labor Inspectorate for the same reason. This began a performance that resulted in the solution of some defaults, as some universities bargained even in the small wage increase provided by the EPIF in the millennials salaries of doctoral students.
As for the extension to the fourth year, it was the Labor Inspectorate itself that suggested to doctoral students and universities to go to a collective conflict, since their differences would have ended up anyway in court.
However, the inspector in charge of the matter made his position clear to the parties. “In my opinion, if the thesis has not been finalized and these gentlemen [the doctoral students] continue with the investigation [during the fourth year], it is necessary to extend it. In any case, there is a lot of casuistry and it is necessary to enter in each particular case” , says Ignacio Fernández, of the general management of the Labor Inspectorate of Catalonia. Fernández would write the report in case the TSJC asked for the opinion of the inspectors.
The Catalonian Government says now one thing next the other
The Generalitat has knocked out the protests of the doctoral students. At first, it defended his three-year PhD model. Then, he agreed to modify his call so that the contracts could be extended until the fourth year, but he delegated the payment of the extension to the universities. The rectors refuse to assume this payment alleging financial drowning.
On November 15, Doctorandes in Lluita occupied for one night the headquarters of a research agency of the Generalitat. The head of Business Department, the post-convergent Àngels Chacón, agreed to meet with them last Monday. According to the doctoral students, Chacón now shares their claims. “If there are budgets, those funds have to go to universities,” say sources from the ‘Department.’ At the moment, Chacón is shielded in that the money is in the hands of the Department of Economy, headed by the republican Pere Aragonès.
Sources of this ‘Ministry’ reply that “the competence in this area is the Department of Business” and refer the problem to the “internal management of resources” of Chacon herself.
However, the general director of Budgets Anna Tarrach left open the possibility of finding the money in the contingency fund of the Generalitat, or going to a credit policy, according to the doctoral students who met with her. These mechanisms were used in the past to pay for the six years of university professors. Doctorandes at Lluita estimates that it would take 13 million euros a year to finance the extensions.
Nine Months of Conflict
The law of science of 2011 provided for the drafting of a statute of the doctoral student, to put order in the variety of scholarships and contracts of young researchers. It was not until March 2019 that the government approved by Royal Decree the Statute of Research Personnel in Training (EPIF). This provides for salary increases, reductions in teaching hours and the extension of contracts until the fourth year. However, the Catalan Government did not allocate a budget to comply with EPIF. For their part, Generalitat and universities made it as if the EPIF did not go with them. The first one again called three-year contracts and the second (with the exception of the UAB) refused to extend the existing ones. In reaction, the Doctorandes Collective in Lluita emerged, which, with the support of the CGT union, has led in recent months to sound protests and legal actions such as the collective conflict started on Thursday.