STEM researchers band together to decry pay delay
MANILA, Philippines — Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman who have experienced extreme delays in the release of their salary have formed an alliance to demand not only the pay due them but also “more humane working conditions.”
According to the Alliance of STEM Graduate Students and Workers-UP Diliman, some researchers have not received their salary for 17 months.
Around 70 STEM workers have joined the alliance since it was founded in October to assert the rights of science workers in the university and to find solutions to outstanding issues.
Tin Bantay, a member of the group, said that although they were working in institutions within UP, they were considered “non-UP contractual” workers who received their salary from funding agencies of projects for which they were hired.
Bantay has been working as a researcher in different projects at the UP Marine Science Institute (MSI) since January 2018 while she completes her master’s degree there. Her work includes studying the ocean’s physical processes, such as waves and currents, in the Philippine Rise (Benham), Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Bolinao (Pangasinan), and Boracay.
“We measure properties of the water, like temperature, salinity, and velocity to answer scientific questions,” she said.
But despite dedicating her time and expertise to her job, Bantay has not received her salary for eight months. Some of her coworkers in the same situation have decided to leave the project, she said.
The salary delays are usually due to the inability of funding agencies—mostly government offices, such as the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources—to release the budget for the projects.
“There were many others, at least in the Colleges of Science and Engineering, only that the lengths of delay vary and depend on the funding agency of the project. We are non-UP contractuals and UP does not treat us as employees even if we do work in UP,” Bantay told the Inquirer.
She added that the problem had been present even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of the “no employer-employee relationship” clause in their contracts, researchers also do not get any benefits, such as leaves, hazard pay, and bonuses, Bantay said.
More than 8 hours
“Some of us have been contractuals for more than 10 years already. [I’ve been a contractual] for five-and-a-half years,” she said.
Patrick Cadeliña, who founded the alliance, was a non-UP contractual research assistant in UP MSI for seven years, also while completing his master’s degree in the same college. His six-month contract with the DOST ended on Oct. 1.
“Research assistants usually spend more than eight hours in offices and laboratories. An extreme case for me was when I spent two to three weeks in the lab to analyze. That’s where I slept, took a bath, etc.,” Cadeliña said.
Aside from working on project deliverables that were being hampered by delays in the procurement of equipment, they also had to attend to administrative tasks, he said.
And because they were not categorized as UP employees, they also do not receive hazard pay for fieldwork or lab duty. “The work that we do is also not counted as government services required for DOST/government scholars who need to fulfill their return service,” he added.
Project-based contracts usually last from six months to up to three years, according to Bantay and Cadeliña.
Under these projects, laboratory technicians receive around P12,000-P15,000 monthly, and research assistants, usually graduates of science programs, P27,000-P32,000 monthly.
Senior research assistants with master in science degrees receive P35,000-P40,000 monthly, and engineers around P60,000.
Based on a survey conducted by the alliance, 92 out of the 94 respondents have experienced salary delays, many of whom are breadwinners and rely on their monthly incomes to sustain their families’ needs.
The alliance said one of the two researchers who answered “no” was given loans by their project leader to cover for the salary delays, “which should never happen especially during the pandemic.”
Researchers’ salaries were delayed for an average of four months in 2019, and an average of seven months in 2020, according to the survey.
Cadeliña said the alliance sent a letter to UP vice chancellor for research and development Gonzalo Campoamor and UP Diliman chancellor Fidel Nemenzo on Dec. 1 to request a dialogue on issues concerning the salary of science workers.
Portions of the letter read: “UP is foremost a center of science, technology, and engineering in the country, and is a training ground for thousands of scientists that have dedicated their careers in pursuit of knowledge.
“Such excellence is enabled by the dedicated research and science personnel who fuel the day-to-day operations of these projects.”
Also in the letter, members of the alliance expressed resentment at the absence of an “employee-employer relationship” in contract-based agreements between UP and science workers.
“This practice, along with the several bureaucratic layers that the funding itself undergoes, has put hundreds of research personnel [in] a precarious position,” they said.
Cadeliña said they had received an assurance from the UP administration on Friday that the issue would be taken up.
“They still have not yet granted our request for a dialogue, but nevertheless they have promised to work with us to try and resolve the many issues UP STEM workers face,” he said.