Some straight talk from CSIRO Chief Executive Megan Clark plus a willingness to personally engage with staff concerns livened up last week’s consultative council meeting with the Staff Association.
The latest instalment of the biannual Consultative Council met last Tuesday at Limestone Avenue, Canberra.
CSIRO management in attendance were led by Megan Clark, along with Craig Roy, Warren Smith, Trevor Heldt, and Alex Allars. Specialist managers such as CFO Hazel Bennett and Head of Library Services Carol Murray were also present for the relevant sections of the agenda.
Staff Association members were was represented by Qld Councillor and QCAT Librarian Anna Campbell, NSW Councillor and CMIS Communicator Peter Saunders, Section President Michael Borgas, Section Secretary Sam Popovski and National Organiser Paul Girdler.
The union placed two key issues on the agenda: CSIRO’s use of consultants and contractors and, secondly, the importance of the role of libraries and librarians in supporting researchers based on the results of a survey conducted by the Staff Association.
The implementation of recommendations from the Regional Sites review was also discussed.
CSIRO management provided a briefing on initiatives in the learning and development program area. There were also discussions on the impact of SIP 7, the staff survey and bullying and harassment.
Contractors and consultants
Current Federal government policy requiring agencies to detail their strategies to reduce costs to meet the increased ‘efficiency dividend’ budget cuts – including spending on contractors and consultants – formed the backdrop to this discussion.
According to CSIRO Annual reports, spending on consultants has risen progressively from $740,830 in 2007/08 to $1,845,670 in 2010/11 (Source CSIRO Annual reports).
When quizzed about spending on contractors, CFO Hazel Bennett began by explaining, in some instances, defining what actually constituted a contractor was problematic and it made quantifying spending difficult.
However, in a move that departed from the script, the CEO openly provided figures on total contractor spending.
Megan Clark announced that that spending on contractors in CSIRO was:
• $20.5 million for the financial year 2008-2009
• $18.9 million for the year 2009-2010
• $20.1 million for the year 2010-2011
The CFO expressed the view that while CSIRO was required to report these stats to government there was no actual requirement to reduce specific spending on contractors and consultants.
In response to further questions, the CEO indicated that the SAP contract was due for renewal in 2013 and while there were no plans to change the platform, whether CSIRO would maintain its current arrangement with Fujitsu was being considered. The Staff Association requested that the views of affected staff be considered as part of this process.
CEO to check out Library Services
Staff Association councillor and QCAT Librarian Anna Campbell presented the results of the union’s Library Services survey.
The results clearly demonstrate the value researchers place on CSIRO libraries and the assistance and skills of library staff. The survey also revealed grave concerns about the impact of a proposal to further reduce current support levels to researchers and the subsequent impact upon delivery of scientific outcomes.
While there was broad agreement that librarians play an important role supporting research, there were no commitments regarding the future of libraries and numbers of librarians.
However in another surprise, Megan Clark agreed to ‘shadow’ Anna Campbell for a day at QCAT to better understand the work and support librarians provide.
The offer to personally engage with an area of acute staff concern was welcomed and provides another opportunity for senior management to develop a hands-on understanding of the important work CSIRO librarians perform.
Regional Sites review
It soon became clear that there were different perspectives on the progress of implementation of the recommendations of the Regional Sites review.
CSIRO management cited the work on developing the regional site plans by OICs as evidence that implementation was proceeding well.
Based on feedback from Staff Association delegates at Regional Sites and members of the Regional Sites working group, the Staff Association noted that there appeared to have been little to no progress in regard to six of the total of ten review recommendations.
Further discussion revealed that part of the problem with the lack of progress may be due in part to the absence of an integrated approach between OICs and key managers who provide funding (relevant flagships, themes and business units) in the development of regional site plans.
There was agreement that the funding picture should become clearer – including through CSIRO’s four year funding plan – in coming months and that Consultative Council will review the progress of regional review recommendations, including resource implications, at its next meeting.
Learning and Development initiatives
CSIRO showcased some positive developments in Learning and Development.
This included the program of CSIRO learning and training into three themes (Working in CSIRO, Science in CSIRO and Leading in CSIRO) and the development of a training system that will be able to track CSIRO officer’s progress through the relevant training modules and courses.
The Staff Association recommended that learning modules on the CSIRO Charter should be incorporated in the Working in CSIRO and/or Science in CSIRO themes.
Deputy CEO Craig Roy confirmed that the approximate staffing reduction for 2012-13 was 116 and that business units would each be consulting separately with the Staff Association about the impact in their areas.
A four year budget plan, which should provide greater certainty in the future, will be developed by October by the CSIRO Executive Team.
Information was provided on the timelines for communication and consultation with staff including via Webinar.
Bullying and Harassment
Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski highlighted the importance of addressing bullying and harassment in CSIRO. Our reputation is dependent on fostering the trust and respect of staff, both past and present.
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