Scientific Workers and their Role in Society


90th Executive Council of the World Federation of Scientific Workers

A Contribution to the Meetings’ Debates (on line) — Session 2
Frederico Carvalho
OTC-Organização dos Trabalhadores Científicos, Portugal

When talking about scientific workers one should agree on the limits of the universe we are referring to. In international surveys of the scientific and technological work force it is common practice to distinguish between “researchers” and “research and development personnel”. The latter includes professionals of a wide range of expertise employed by different types of institutions where research and development work is carried out. From the specialized clerk to the workshop instrument maker, the communications engineer or computer programmer, to the lab technician and the researcher and others still. Research and development in our days perhaps more than ever is the product of team work. The research output is to a high degree dependent on the existence, appropriate composition and number of elements of such a team. My own experience in my home country allows me to say that one of the main weaknesses of the Portuguese R&D infrastructure is the yawning gap between the number of active researchers and that of technicians and other R&D personnel. In the European Union at 27 members the average ratio considering all sectors of the number of full time equivalent researchers to full time equivalent of non-researchers in the total R&D personnel was 1.7 in 2019 whilst in Portugal the same ratio was 4,5. In the High Education Sector, taken separately, the ratio was 3.1 in the EU at 27 while in Portugal the same was 10.6. This means in the case of my country the number of non-researcher R&D personnel should be multiplied by 3.4 to reach the EU-27 average. An imbalance in the composition of the scientific workforce as revealed by these numbers restrains the access to certain research areas and research types mainly applied research and development.

Now, going back to definitions, the stance of my organization — OTC — is that all R&D personnel should be considered as being scientific workers. We even would extend this universe to include science journalists and science communicators as well as a number of professionals of different areas and lone thinkers that effectively use the scientific method in their endeavors.

Scientific workers in general and researchers in particular are normally employed by an establishment included in one sometimes more than one sector of social activity. It is common practice to distinguish the following four: Higher Education, Government, Business Enterprise and Private Non-profit Sectors. Public or State research establishments are included in the Government Sector. CNRS as well as CEA research establishments in France or CSIC in Spain are classified in the Government Sector.

The same applies to research establishments under the authority of Defense Departments. The nature and purpose of scientific work carried out in the different sectors and the social role of scientific workers employed there can be markedly distinct. It is essential that such differences are recognized by associations that represent scientific workers and act in defense of their rights and working conditions. This is true both for trade-unions and professional associations. It is essential that the WFSW characterized by their overarching interests and goals that address the scientific community and society in general be equipped with the necessary instruments to fulfill that role. Enhanced interaction and information gathering in partnership with affiliated organizations that are on the ground is of utmost importance. A tendency to over evaluate the importance of the social role of scientific workers in the Higher Education Sector at the expense of that of the workforce either in the Government or the Business Enterprise sectors should be corrected as much as possible. Public research establishments are an essential component of a nation’s scientific and technological infrastructure. We are particularly concerned by the eventual implement of careless or negligent policies concerning the sustainability of public laboratories. It is the case in Portugal where valuable public laboratories are going down a path of destruction.

December 14, 2020