With CSIRO set to shed almost one in five positions in only two years, it’s hard to imagine the jobs situation could be worse.
However the application of the Voluntary Redundancy Substitution (VRS) scheme in the current redundancy round has resulted in hundreds of CSIRO staff remaining in the organisation to continue their careers being replaced by staff who were willing to take redundancy.
Despite the success of VRS in providing a small measure of solace to a workforce wracked by job cuts, that hasn’t stopped CSIRO management targeting redundancy rights in enterprise agreement negotiations.
How redundancy substitution works
Potentially redundant employees that wish to continue their CSIRO careers can list their details on the VRS register and – subject to skill and capability matching – exchange their position with another officer that wishes to leave the organisation.
Human Resources management state that in the current redundancy round to date, 181 staff have successfully accessed redundancy substitution and swapped positions with someone wanting to leave and are set to continue their careers at CSIRO.
According to HR, another 50 potential redundancies have been avoided through the location of funding or work within the organisation.
That’s a rare glimmer of light amidst the gloom of heavy job losses. Unfortunately the redundancy substitution scheme – part of the comprehensive suite of enforceable redundancy rights – is one of many targeted by CSIRO management at the bargaining table.
During the last bargaining campaign, the Staff Association won important improvements to the existing redeployment and retrenchment process. These included:
- Moving the Voluntary Redundancy Substitution step to the ‘front’ of the process with the clear objective of increasing and maximising the number of substitutions.
- Abolishing the unfair ‘spill and fill’ process, replacing it with a better system to operate in any situation where the number of roles available is fewer than the current number.
A ‘spill and fill’ process – a restructuring tactic favoured by private sector firms – involves the declaration of all positions as redundant and requires staff members to apply for positions under the new structure. The process is always divisive, open to gaming and often unfair.
On the other hand – when properly administered – redundancy substitution represents a transparent, practical and common sense approach that often result in the retention of talented staff that might otherwise be forced out.
Redundancy rights under threat
Despite the relative success of redundancy substitution in recent times, management have targeted the scheme in enterprise bargaining negotiations with a proposal to strip the clause from the agreement altogether.
While the agreement maintains that redundancy substitution is entirely at CSIRO’s discretion, there are legally enforceable rights relating to access to the scheme and when it should be considered in the redundancy process.
These legally enforceable protections – along with all of the conditions relating to redundancy, redeployment and retrenchment – would cease to exist if management succeed in their aim of stripping the entire schedule from the agreement and placing it into unenforceable policy.
In addition to removing the bulk of the redeployment and redundancy schedule from the agreement, management are proposing further reductions to redundancy rights including slashing paid entitlements by eight weeks and implementing cuts to income maintenance and retention provisions.