Yesterday, hundreds of research fellows at Conicet (National Council of Scientific and Techincal Research) gathered at scientific technology centers around the country to demand a raise in their research stipends. In the context of budget cuts (and sundry other economic belt-tightening), they want to their payment to be in-line with the rate of inflation. Sounds familiar.
The demonstration was a direct response to the austerity measures taken by the Macri administration following the announcement of cuts to Science and Technology, which would result in a grant freeze for scientific researchers.
In the middle of the action, a research fellow for Geological Research in La Plata said to press, “within the crises that the scientific system is navigating, we are making this complaint because the doctoral and post-doctoral fellows have not received a raise this year while the career scientists received a raise of 15 percent in three installments.”
The researchers continued the demonstration until the evening, when the director of Conicet announced stipends would be raised. The fellows’ pay raise will match that of other public sector workers, with an increase of 15% split up into three payments (one of 3 percent, two of 6 percent), plus an additional fixed payment of AR $2,000 in early July. This agreement is in line with the numbers won over in an earlier strike by the civil service union, but still doesn’t measure up to the projected inflation for the year: nearly 30 percent.
Even though this raise is a victory for researchers and their families, the problem of research funding is one that will persist. Research fellows, as grant recipients, do not enjoy the benefits of salaried employment: bonuses, retirement funds, overtime pay, and the like. On top of that, their yearly stipend is AR $18,900, a mere one hundred pesos over the poverty line. Is this a sustainable wage? Is it enough to draw the best minds to the field, and keep them in Argentina?
Months ago, the Minister of Science and Technology made his position clear when he said to a group of fellowship recipients, “You are scholars, not laborers. The grant is a benefit given to you by society to train you and increase your future employment value.”
But what kind of future is that creating? The researcher at the rally added that the possible grant freeze compounds the existing crisis created by the slashing of researcher salaries, which he says have been cut to almost half the amount of available quotas. Keeping research grants available, and at a livable wage, helps to keep youth interested in pursuing scientific research fields. Considering that, it will be beneficial to the field of science that the Conicet fellows succeeded in bargaining for a wage raise. However, the event raises questions around questionable government priorities, growing uncertainty in the field of science, and the long-term effect of budget cuts.