“For many of us, this is our only source of income. We hope that the UP administration can find a way to address the situation before Christmas.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Darahlyn Biel-Romualdo has been working as a research assistant (RA) for three different UP projects with different government agencies since 2016. Like other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers, Biel-Romualdo is considered a non-UP contractual without job security and benefits. Their salaries come from government agencies funding joint research projects with UP.
Despite working during the lockdown, Biel-Romualdo has not received her salary for 16 months. The agency funding the project she has been working on had not approved the request despite her team submitting all the requirements. For the first three months of the delay, her boss lended her money but she received nothing for the next 13 months.
“For this reason, we had a hard time managing our finances because my husband’s salary was not enough to take care of all our bills and other household expenses. Moreover, during these months, I was pregnant with my second child,” Biel-Romualdo told Bulatlat in an online interview.
“It was frustrating to know that despite a major crisis, the university did not even offer at least a workaround to let us receive even a portion of our salary,” she added.
The plight of STEM workers especially during the pandemic compelled them to band together and form the Alliance of STEM Graduate Students and Workers – UP Diliman.
In a survey conducted by the group among 94 workers, STEM workers experience an average of 7.1 months salary delay. One worker has not received his salary for 17 months.
Patrick Cadeliña, spokesperson of the alliance, told Bulatlat that before the pandemic, they are used to not getting their salaries for up to three months. The lockdown, however, worsened the situation as the offices processing their pay have been functioning on a skeletal force.
“For many of us, this is our only source of income. We hope that the UP administration can find a way to address the situation before Christmas,” Cadeliña told Bulatlat in an interview.
The alliance wrote letters to UP Diliman administration, held a picket protest on December 4, and called for dialogue with concerned offices.
On December 16, the alliance held a dialogue with Chancellor Fidel R. Nemenzo, Vice Chancellor for Research and Development Gonzalo Campoamor II, Vice Chancellor for Administration Adeline A. Pacia to discuss the issue of salary delays.
Warner Carag of Agham-UP Diliman and also a STEM worker said Chancellor Nemenzo promised to look for ways to provide the long-delayed salaries of STEM workers.
After the dialogue, Carag said some of the STEM workers received calls from one of the funding agency for the processing of their salaries. The alliance has yet to confirm with their members how many have received a portion of their salaries before Christmas.
“Collective action has the power to not only bring light to the decades-old problem of the STEM workforce but also find ways to solve them,” the alliance said.
The group is hoping that the dialogue would provide immediate relief for the affected workers, and would eventually address other issues faced by the STEM workers.
As a long-term solution, the Alliance of STEM Graduate Students and Workers said providing regular positions for them would solve the delayed salary and would provide them job security, and benefits.
“Especially during unfortunate times like this pandemic, they should not take research assistants for granted. Instead, they should prioritize them just like how they prioritize their regular employees. After all, research assistants play an essential role in every research that carries the university name,” Biel-Romualdo said.