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UPLB REPS disclose pandemic work woes; demand better pay, health benefits, tenureship

Juggling multiple responsibilities in the remote set-up, REPS in UPLB call to be recognized more than mere “secondary citizens.”

Words by Paulette Dela Paz and Yani Redoblado

“We [REPS] feel that we are not compensated well. Parang ang nangyayari kasi, hindi lang sa UPLB but sa buong UP system, ang REPS ay considered na parang ‘secondary citizens’ lang [REPS feel that we are not compensated well. What appears to happen is that, not only here in UPLB but in the whole UP system, REPS are considered ‘secondary citizens’],” University Researcher (UR) “Rudy” [not his real name] said in an interview with the Perspective.

This is line with the calls of the All UP Academic Employees Union (AUPAEU) – Los Baños for  various work-related demands of the UPLB Research, Extension, and Professional Staff (REPS) such as stronger recognition as academic staff, addition of more plantilla items, humane working hours under the work-from-home set-up, health and wellness package, and extension of the connectivity allowance among others.

REPS consists of researchers, extensionists who are mainly involved in trainings, and university staff who provide other professional services such as matters in library and counseling. 

Their service – applicable to all units of UPLB – range from scientific papers, research and extension project reports and proposals, conferences, research forums to technical assistance, resource generation, trade fairs, exhibits, and library and information services.

They are considered to be under the academic non-teaching sector, with the academic teaching faculty. These are two of the three sectors aside from the administrative sector in the university. 

Among several consultation meetings between the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension (OVCRE) and the REPS, the matter of promotion is one of the pressing issues recognized by administrators, particularly the OVCRE.

We are doing work comparable or kung hindi man ay mas higit pa sa mga faculty, but in terms of sahod at tsaka sa workload, hindi kami kapantay sa mga faculty [We are doing work comparable, if not, greater than the faculty but in terms of pay and workload, we are not the same],” “Rudy” claimed.

On pay and promotion

Bernabeth Tendero, member of the UPLB Academic Employees Union under All UP Workers Alliance, described the difference between an open career system and a closed career system that are being adopted by the faculty and the REPS, respectively. 

She explained that since the faculty follows an open career system, anyone can apply for a position anytime one becomes available. 

In this system, educational attainment is also considered before assigning a rank — whether someone will be an Instructor 1 to 3, an assistant professor, or a professor.

Depende ‘yon [rank] sa iyong qualifications. Hindi gano’n sa REPS. Kapag nagkaroon ng vacancy at ia-apply mo ‘yung trabaho, sasabihin talaga sa’yo, ‘naghahanap kami ng UR 2, eto ‘yung qualifications ng UR’ [It all depends on your qualifications. For REPS, that is not the case. When there is a vacancy and you plan to apply for the job, they will tell you ‘we are looking for a UR 2, here are the qualifications for a UR],” she added.

According to her, “‘Yung kasalukuyan kong ranggo bilang university researcher, ang salary grade niya ay katumbas sa ranggo ng Instructor 3 sa faculty. So ‘yung pay grade, kung iko-compare mo ako sa isang assistant professor na we have the same educational qualifications, we still have different salaries. Mas mataas ‘yung salary niya kasi professor siya, ako REPS [My current position as a university researcher, the salary grade is equivalent to an Instructor 3 in the faculty. So, the pay grade, if you compare that to an assistant professor who has the same education qualifications as myself, we still have different salaries. Their salary is higher because they belong in the faculty while I am a REPS].” 

Moreover, an open career system allows the faculty to go up the ranks freely. A master’s graduate who attains a doctorate degree can be promoted through corrective promotion in the faculty. 

For REPS, however, this is not exactly the case as they retain their ranks even after obtaining a doctorate degree. 

Even though the administration affirmed that a corrective promotion can be applied for REPS, Tendero said it is still subject to availability of items.

Kung ano ‘yung aming posisyon na aming pinasukan, kung walang bakanteng mas mataas na posisyon na pwede naming apply-an, hindi kami mapo-promote in terms of salary grade. [Whatever position we applied for, if there are no vacancies in the higher positions where we could apply for, we will not be promoted in terms of salary grade],” she added.

Dr. Fides Tambalo, Assistant to the Vice Chancellor (AVC) for Research and Extension, noted the differences on the promotion guidelines among the faculty and REPS.

Dapat ding maintindihan kasi, ang rules ng civil service ay hindi automatically applicable sa academic [sector] kaya sa promotion ng faculty, they have their own guidelines. Ang administrative staff talagang guided sila ng civil service for promotion, pero dahil na-lump nga ang REPS at admin sa staff, tuloy hindi na alam ngayon kasi kung alin ang ina-apply sa admin, ‘yun din ang ina-apply sa REPS [We have to understand that the rules of civil service are not automatically applicable to the academic sector, that is why the faculty have their own promotion guidelines. The administrative staff are really guided by the civil service but because the REPS and admin are lumped together as staff, it is not discernable anymore since what is being applied to the admin are also applied to REPS],” AVC Tambalo stated.

She said that the classification of REPS becomes confusing, being grouped together with the administrative staff as ‘staff’ separate from the faculty.

Minsan, instead of looking at it as academic [sector] as well as administrative [sector], it becomes ‘faculty’ and ‘staff’ – sa staff dun na-lump ang REPS at admin. ‘Yun ang isang nakakagulo kasi sometimes ang guidelines for the admin is applied to the REPS when in fact it should not be, kasi ang original classification is academic non-teaching [At times, instead of looking at it as academic sector as well as administrative sector, it becomes ‘faculty’ and ‘staff’ – REPS and admin are lumped together as staff. It is confusing because sometimes, guidelines for the admin are applied to the REPS when in fact it should not be, since the original classification is academic non-teaching],” she stressed.

AVC Tambalo clarified that while a promotion based on meritorious performance is already approved, their goal is to have the same guidelines across constituent units.

The existing merit promotion for REPS measures their productivity by having corresponding points with each output for the year in service. This is what is currently being implemented in UPLB and is the basis for the guidelines at the system level.

On average, a REPS has a workload equivalent to 12 units based on the type of REPS one belongs in. As researchers, Tendero stressed that their primary sources of workload are the number of research outputs they currently have.

For the merit promotion, REPS will be ranked based on accumulated points and only the top 5% will be promoted.

‘Yung 5% sobrang competitive. Tapos ang malala pa no’n, dahil meron lang walong steps, so kung na-promote ka na at nasagad mo na ‘yung andun ka na sa step eight, ‘di ka na pwede ma-promote ever [That 5% is very competitive. What’s worse is because there are only eight steps, if you are promoted and you reach that limit, you won’t have a chance to be promoted ever],” she remarked.

As government employees, REPS follow the salary grade (SG) scheme of the government starting from being a University Research Associate (URA) 1 to the highest position, which is University Researcher (UR) 4.

Each salary grade has eight steps which can only be subject to change once REPS are promoted. Merit promotion only allows them to go up for a maximum of two steps.

In line with this, the P50,000 Sagad Award is being championed for REPS who cannot be promoted as they have already reached the maximum 8 steps.

“Binibigay ang Sagad Award bilang panumbas doon sa merit promotion na nangyayari sa mga empleyado na nasa step 8 na. Dahil sagad na sila, wala na silang iaakyat pero productive pa rin sila, bibigyan sila ng Sagad Award [Sagad Award is given as an equivalent to the merit promotion that happens to employees who are already in step 8. Since they are already at the peak, they have nothing to climb up to anymore, but because they are still productive, they will be given the Sagad Award],” Tendero explained.

Moreover, she suggested that there are other paths REPS could take in terms of promotion: either a system that allows REPS to graduate or jump into the position of a Scientist (1, 2, 3).

Meron namang other ways na sabi nila pwede mong gawing i-take into path, ‘yon ‘yung tinatawag nilang Scientific Career System (SCS). Isa itong programa ng DOST kung saan pwede kang mag-enjoy ng mga additional benefits, para lang talaga ito sa mga REPS [There are other ways that they say you can take, which they refer to as the scientific career system. It’s a DOST program where you can enjoy additional benefits, and it’s only for REPS],” Tendero added.

“Rudy” also claimed, “Itong SCS ‘yung natatanging pag-asa ng mga REPS para umangat naman ang aming pay, kasi kapag ma-confer ka bilang isang scientist, medyo significant ‘yung promotion mo […] napakaraming productive REPS talaga na more than qualified to be promoted kaso nga lang ay walang available na item na pwedeng paglipatan so itong SCS na lang talaga yung pag-asa [This SCS is REPS’ only hope to increase our pay, because when you are conferred as a scientist, your promotion is quite significant […] there are many productive REPS who are more than qualified for promotion; the problem is that there are no available items to transfer to, so SCS is the only hope].”

However, both REPS noted that this career system is still difficult to implement because it is output-based and calls for SCS applications are not frequent. AVC Tambalo also stated it is strict in terms of publication requirements, which is why they are proposing to broaden the considerations in the REPS’ outputs they demand.

Furthermore, “Rudy” asserted that to hear these calls on promotion will greatly help in giving REPS what they deserve given their workload.

Maraming qualified, maraming magagaling na REPS na very productive — ang daming outputs, publications, patents, technologies developed — but then again, napako doon sa mababang posisyon because ‘yun nga walang promotion na naibibigay [There are many qualified, many good REPS that are very productive — a lot of outputs, publications, patents, technologies developed — but then again, they are stuck in a low position because there is no promotion given],” he said.

UPLB REPS in a 2019 staff regent forum. Photo from AUPAEU-UPLB / Facebook

Struggles under remote set-up

Output production, however, is also disrupted by the sudden adjustment in work policies to accommodate an online set-up during the pandemic. 

The university has allowed only a limited number of days and employees to physically report on laboratories.

Ngayon dapat 30% lang ng capacity ng iyong workplace ang pupunta. Kung ‘yung lab mo dati ay kayang mag-accommodate ng 10 tao, dahil 30%, edi hanggang two to three[people], ‘di na dapat lumagpas dun, so relyebo [shifting]. So ako, I’m physically reporting sa university three days a week, and then 2 remaining days nasa bahay lang ako [Now, only 30% of the capacity of your workplace can be occupied. If your lab used to accommodate 10 people, because of the 30% limit, only two to three people can go, you shouldn’t go beyond that. So I physically report to the university for three days a week, and then the two remaining days, I’m just at home],” Tendero discussed how their workplace’s rotation system works.

Tendero noted that one of the most severe implications of this policy is the loss of thesis students who assisted them in laboratory experiments.

Tapos meron kaming projects na wala kaming full-time researcher, kami talaga ‘yung gumagawa. So sana kung may thesis student kami, pwede ko siyang makatulong pero dahil bawal pumunta ang students sa lab, ‘yung mga thesis students namin nawala [Then we have projects where we don’t have full-time researchers, so we do all of that. Hopefully, if we have a thesis student, they can help me, but because students are not allowed to go to the lab, we lost our thesis students], ” she added.

Meanwhile, “Rudy” shared his personal experience dealing with the shift to online setup.

“I handle microorganisms at ang mga mikrobyo hindi maghihintay sa’yo. Makukuha mo lang ‘yung data kung sasabayan mo ‘yung growth niya [microorganisms]. Paano kung mag-inoculate ka nung time na nag-report ka, then the following day hindi ka pwede mag-report? Sino magko-collect nung data? [I handle microorganisms; they won’t wait for you. You will only gather data if you observe the microorganisms on schedule. What if you inoculate by the time you were allowed to report physically and then the following day, it’s not your turn to report? Who will collect the data?],” he said.

With this, he expressed that the delivery of their expected outputs is hampered and even contributes to stress.

“Stressful ‘yung situation ngayong pandemic sa aming mga REPS because we are obliged to deliver ‘yung workload output namin every six months,” he said.

Aside from this, Tendero added that adjusting to the work-from-home setting took a toll on their mental health because of the blurred lines between chores at home and their work. 

She also shared,  “Dati kapag pumapasok kami ng face-to-face, marami kami dun sa lab. Pero ngayon, mag-isa lang ako pumapasok, so nakakapanglaw. Sabik ka sa kausap pero wala kang ibang kakwentuhan [Before when we report to work during face-to-face, there are many people in the lab. Now, I go to work alone. You want to talk to someone but nobody is there].”

When asked about other struggles in the midst of the pandemic, Tendero answered, “Isa pa, well, dati pa naman kasi na problema sa research ‘yung procurement. Mabagal na siya dati, ngayon mas mabagal pa. Malaki ang epekto no’n kasi kapag mabagal ang procurement, mabagal ang paggastos mo ng pondo ng project. Tapos hindi mo makukuha ‘yung materials na kailangan mo, paano ka gagawa kung wala kang materials? [Another thing, well, it has been an ongoing problem in research – the procurement. If it was slow before, it is even slower now. It has a huge impact because if procurement is slow, research expenditure will also be slow for the project. And if you would not purchase the materials you need, how will you be able to work?].”

She also said that while researchers can request research center personnel to deliver materials to them in light of mobility restrictions, extensionists are having a much more difficult time working during a pandemic.

“‘Yung iba na kailangan direkta kang pumunta, halimbawa ‘yung mga extensionists dahil nagte-training sila at pumupunta sa mga community, so paano sila? Minsan, kung kailangan talaga nila pumunta at nakakalusot naman, pagbalik nila ika-quaratine muna. Hindi sila pwede mag-report sa university [The others who really need to be there physically, the extensionists, for example, since they go to communities for training, what about them? Sometimes, if they need to go and they find ways to get through, they have to stay in quarantine when they come back. They cannot report to the university.],” she exclaimed.

To report travel logs and possible COVID-19 symptoms, Tendero explained that they use a system called Online Health Monitoring (OHM), in which they are asked if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, and if they don’t, the system generates a building pass that allows them access to the laboratories. Once a symptom is flagged, they will not be given a building pass and are not allowed to report to work. This is in addition to having those with work-from-home schedules to fill out the “Work From Home Accomplishment Report” detailing their daily work accomplishments.”

The REPS emphasized, however, that they understand these measures saying, “Naiintindihan naman namin na part siya ng pag-iingat kasi nga ang pinakamalaking source ng hawaan ay sa workplace. Kailangan lang ayusin or planuhin kung paano mo gagawin ‘yung mga gawain bilang REPS [We still understand that this is part of safety precautions since the workplace is one of the biggest sources of infection. We just need to plan how to do our responsibilities as REPS].” 

Both Tendero and “Rudy” mentioned they can only conduct minimal tasks, such as data analysis and article research, and only if they have the necessary devices, when working from home.

The REPS are granted a 1,500 peso internet subsidy from the connectivity allowance memorandum every other month, which has since stopped in June.

Last September 30, AUPAEU announced in a Facebook post that the extension of the connectivity allowance was already approved by the BOR according to Staff Regent Mylah Pedrano.

Moreover, a 20,000 peso loan is allowed for REPS to take out to purchase the devices they need for work.

Pero hanggang saan ba aabutin ‘yung 20k na loan? Kailangan mo na ng isang gadget para gawin ang trabaho tapos pinautang ka pa nila, so may dagdag ka pang gastusin every month kung binabayaran mo siya [loan] monthly. Parang nagdagdag ka ng pasanin sa REPS [But, how far can the 20k loan reach? You need a gadget to do work and then they lend you money, so you’ll have an added expense every month if you pay for the loan monthly. It’s as though you’ve put a burden on REPS],” Tendero said.

Still, she asserted that the institutionalization of the REPS Welfare Council (RWC) and REPS Personnel and Fellowship Committee (RPFC) is considered a victory in line with concerns regarding the welfare of REPS.

Through the help of former faculty regent Dr. Patricia Arinto, the RWC in UPLB was established along with three groups which look for the welfare of the REPS – the UP System RWC, RPFC, as well as the REPS Development Fund (RDF).

The RWC consults REPS about the work-related affairs and from these consultations, creates recommendatory policies to be approved by the administration through OVCRE.

‘Yung mga dating proposals ng RWC, wala pang nagiging desisyon sa mga nabanggit, about sa tenureship ganon. Pero ang ginagawa naman ng OVCRE, meron silang mga ino-organize na mga consultation meetings with REPS [With regard to previous proposals of RWC, there have been decisions yet, like in tenureship concerns. But the OVCRE organizes consultation meetings with REPS],” Tendero explained. 

AVC Tambalo, meanwhile, said they recognized that the up-or-out policy before, which was anchored on the policy of the faculty, was difficult and inhumane considering that the university is not providing an environment for REPS to attain several requirements.

She revealed that they created interim guidelines in UPLB until such time there is a final decision from the UP Board of Regents (BOR) whether to finalize said guidelines as permanent replacement to the up and out policy in the whole system.

“When we had the general assembly of the REPS across CUs, ‘yun ‘yung isang naging concern and the sentiment of the other CUs is ipa-hold muna ‘yan sa BOR,” she explained regarding the pending status of the proposal.

However, the approved guidelines are still an issue for REPS who are in a difficult position when it comes to policies considering they are neither faculty nor admin.

Sa ibang CUs, ginagamit nila ‘yung probisyon ng civil service na 6 months pwede ka nang maging eligible sa tenureship. Sa UPLB, hindi. Ang sinusunod ay ‘yung may approved na moratorium guidelines for tenureship [In other CUs, they use the civil service provision that allows you to be eligible for tenureship after 6 months. In UPLB, it’s different. They adhere to the approved tenure moratorium guidelines for tenureship],” Tendero stated.

According to these guidelines, there is a required period in service of 3 years before REPS can be eligible for tenureship. 

A publication is an additional requirement for UR 1 and above, which “Rudy” claims is also hard to achieve since not all REPS can publish their research.

Tendero further stated that despite working for years, many workers in the university’s offices and institutions are still not permanent and do not receive benefits. 

Hindi sila [contractuals] subject sa increase ng salary, wala silang ine-enjoy na benefits tulad ng isang regular na empleyado so ‘yun pa rin ‘yung panawagan na i-end ang kontraktwalisasyon [Contractuals are not subject to salary increase, they do not enjoy benefits like a regular employee so there is still a call to end contractualization].”

Department of Humanities (DHum) Associate Professor Laurence Castillo joined the call for the release of health and wellness packages for REPS.
Photo from Prof. Laurence Castillo / Twitter

On health benefits due to the pandemic

The pandemic has also led to the union’s call for larger provisions on the Enhanced Hospitalization Programme (eHOPE), which provides hospitalization benefits to UP faculty, REPS, and administrative staff, primarily by covering not just the employees but also their families.

Kasi diba with the advent of COVID pandemic, especially with the Delta variant, pami-pamilya na kasi ‘yung nai-infect, hindi lang ‘yung individual so kahit na sabihin mo na, if the rest of the family is staying inside the house, and yet the UP employee ay lumalabas at nagtatrabaho, so pwedeng carrier siya ng virus, mabuti sana kung siya lang ‘yung posibleng magkasakit pero hindi. Alam ko dun nag-stem ‘yung panawagan na palawakin ‘yung saklaw ng eHOPE [With the advent of the COVID pandemic, especially the Delta variant, families are infected, not just individuals, so even if the rest of the family stays inside the house while the UP employee goes out and works, they could still be a carrier of the virus; it would be preferable if the employee is the only one who can get sick, but that is not the case. I know the call to expand the scope of eHOPE stemmed from that],” Tendero explained, justifying the call for the expansion of eHOPE.

Benefits from eHOPE can only be used directly at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), and can only be claimed through reimbursements at other hospitals.

Last year, former Chancellor Fernando C. Sanchez, Jr. endorsed to the UP Board of Regents a proposed amendment to the eHOPE guidelines that would allow employees who had severe  illnesses but were not confined due to their vulnerability to COVID-19 infection to reimburse their medical expenses through eHOPE.

Tendero extended this appeal to those who are suspected of having or infected with COVID-19 but do not have access to hospital rooms or cannot afford to be admitted, “in terms of ‘yung eHOPE, sana mapalawig siya, sana ma-cover ‘yung mga parang pampa-test [COVID testing] diba ganiyan tapos sana ‘yung gastusin kapag nagka-quarantine [In terms of the eHOPE, I hope it can be expanded, I hope it can cover COVID testing and such, I hope the expenses when you are quarantined is also covered].”

The UPLB COVID-19 Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory (UPLB-CMDL), which began operations last year to do independent COVID-19 testing by Realtime PCR, has been made available to UP employees to assist them in the event of symptoms.

Mayroon kaming health monitoring ganiyan, dahil mayroon tayong CMDL, may kagaanan din sa pagpapa-test in case na suspected ka kasi halimbawa kung ikaw ay UPLB employee tapos nag-display ka ng symptoms, mas mababa ‘yung babayaran mo dahil may sarili tayong lab [We have health monitoring, and because we have CMDL, there is also ease in testing in case you are a suspected patient, for example, if you are a UPLB employee and then you display symptoms, you will pay less because we have our own lab].”

This year, REPS began receiving a hazard pay of 500 pesos for every 8 hours of authorized physical reporting for work they do under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and Modified ECQ (MECQ).

Calls for better working conditions

UPLB RWC has implemented a standardized criteria this year for hiring REPS to maintain professional behavior and assess applicant’s interview performance, scholarly productivity, training services participation, and service length.

AVC Tambalo also disclosed action plans for other initiatives, such as making sabbatical, a paid leave currently open solely to faculty, available to REPS. The said proposal has already reached the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA).

Marami pa kaming [RWC] gustong tignan, kagaya ng Professorial Chair [awards] ng mga faculty, so ano-ano ‘yung pwedeng counterpart din para sa mga REPS? Sa RWC, ang mga tina-tackle namin ay kapag may mga grievances. We’re working side by side with the Acad Union on how to have guidelines also [We still have a lot to examine, such as the Professional Chair Awards of the faculty, what are the possible counterparts of this for the REPS? At RWC, we tackle things related to grievances. We’re working side by side with the Acad Union on how to have guidelines also],” she went on to say more about the council’s next steps. 

Still, Tendero reiterated the demands for a better career system for REPS given the related difficulties in promotion and tenureship.

“Rudy” echoed this call saying, “Sana mas pag-igihin pa, mas i-sustain, and mas maging solid pa ‘yung efforts sa pag-transfer ng mga REPS to the scientific career system ng DOST [We hope that efforts in transferring REPS to the scientific career system would improve, be sustained, and to be much stabler].” 

Tendero also pushed for the abolition of contractualization and the appointment of the university’s contractual workers as government employees. 

Lastly, she stressed the importance of eHOPE and other related health and wellness benefits especially in time of a pandemic. [P]

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