Calar Alto observatory fights for survival: 20% of staff laid off

Calar Alto observatory, in the mountains above Almeria, is Europe’s largest observatory. But that hasn’t saved it from funding cuts which lead to its Director quitting recently in protest.

It’s administered jointly by Spain’s CSIC and the Max Planck Institute of Germany. CSIC has almost abandoned the observatory, and Max Planck has also severely cut back.

This has lead to a wave of job losses, as the remaining staff are forced to take pay cuts of up to 35%. But still, 20% of the staff are being laid off.

The cleaning service is being outsourced, and the onsite catering service closed. Several administration jobs are also being lost. In all, 9 people have been fired at the site.

“That’s it” said Ricardo Hernández, one of the scientists at the site in charge of negotiating its budget. There’s no more fat. If the budget is cut again next year, one of the telescopes will have to go.

Last year, the Parliament of Andalusia voted to support the observatory. But the support is only moral, and the Junta has refused to support the observatory financially.

The budget was 4 million in 2012, and with visiting scientists being supported financially by grants from Germany and Spain.

This year, the total budget is just 1,6 million euros, with a series of once-off grants increasing the amount to 2,2 million euros, or about half of what it was two years ago. The visiting scientists grants have also vanished.

Dr José María Quintana quit his job as Director of the Institute last year in protest at the grant costs. “I’m not intelligent enough to run this observatory with this little money” he quipped at the time.

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