Sam Popovski reflects on a year – while dominated by severe cuts to jobs and research – also featured Staff Association members and delegates supporting each other, standing up for CSIRO and showing the way forward in 2015.
THERE’S NO POINT in denying the obvious. The past twelve months have been brutal for us in CSIRO. None of us have been immune from the impact of cuts. Trusted, passionate colleagues have been lost, important research has been discarded and hard won working conditions are threatened.
However there is cause for hope. As Staff Association President Michael Borgas reflected last year when reviewing what he described as a tumultuous 2013, “our best response to these challenges is also our greatest strength – the collective approach.”
Despite everything that has been thrown at us this year, Staff Association members and delegates have stuck together and supported each other. That’s been critical to our efforts in defending CSIRO staff in the face of Government cuts, heavy job losses and management moves to attack working conditions.
Some calm before the storm
The year began as the one before ended, with our attempts to make a start on enterprise bargaining frustrated by management delays. Two big CSIRO building projects came in for some parliamentary scrutiny. Meanwhile a review into CSIRO Education set the hares running.
The Pearce investigation into bullying, harassment and unreasonable behaviour wrapped up with the release of second phase report.However the fate of the Matrix and the outcome of the Organisation Arrangements Review (OAR) occupied most attention. Staff Association Treasurer Scott Wilkinson outlined some of the important questions about this process. By mid March it was clear that the old structure had been effectively scrapped but fears were emerging that jobs may be cut in the process.
The announcement of 300 job losses as a result of the restructure was strongly criticised by the Staff Association and clearly exposed earlier assurances from management that the exercise would not be used as an excuse to cut positions.
In early May, the Government’s Commission of Audit report was released, with several recommendations relating to CSIRO. Among the findings, the report revealed a funding shortfall of $175 million simply to keep CSIRO properties and buildings up to code.
The Federal Budget delivered deep cuts to CSIRO funding. Chief Executive Megan Clark was quick to confirm that jobs and research would suffer as a result. In addition to the $115 funding cut, the budget included a range of additional measures that would impact on CSIRO capability.
A fortnight after the budget, Dr Clark released the Annual Directions Statement, which confirmed drastic cuts to jobs and research as well as site closures, including the Riverina’s iconic Griffith laboratory.
In response to the cutbacks, Staff Association members across the country organised a series of protest meetings. Starting inregional sites, followed later in the week by metropolitan workplaces; the demonstrations were colourful and well received by the community.
Staff Association representatives also stepped up efforts to relay the concerns of CSIRO staff to federal politicians and requested an urgent meeting with Minister Ian Macfaralane.
Parliamentarians responded to the budget cuts to science and research, with Labor and the Greens combining to call for a Senate inquiry into Australia’s Innovation System.
Bargaining begins.. finally
After many months of delays, CSIRO management finally set a date for the first series of formal negotiations for a new agreement – albeit less than a month before the current deal was set to nominally expire.
Sadly, any hopes that CSIRO had reconsidered their support for the Government’s extreme bargaining framework were quickly dashed.
Management used the first negotiations to confirm their desire to strip protections, rights and content from more than 50 per cent of the clauses in the current enterprise agreement.
Savage scale of cuts
Throughout the year a more detailed picture of cuts to jobs and research at CSIRO began to emerge.
No area of CSIRO was left unscathed and the Staff Association maintained an online list of the formal advice provided by management of potentially redundancies.
Management target working conditions
Despite the deep pain inflicted by cuts to jobs and research, management stepped up their attack on CSIRO working conditions at the bargaining table.
Ignoring plummeting morale and widespread job insecurity, management revealed a proposal to slash redundancy entitlements, in an effort to make it easier, cheaper and quicker to sack CSIRO staff.
It didn’t stop there though; with the next round of negotiations revealing management targeting the working conditions of Post Doc and Term employees.
Getting the message to Canberra
In September, senior representatives from the Staff Association arranged meetings with a range of politicians in Canberra to discuss the impact of cuts at CSIRO.
Over two days, President Michael Borgas and myself met with more than a dozen politicians including Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane as well as representatives from the Coalition, Labor, Greens, the Palmer United Party and key crossbench independents.
In addition to explaining the impact of cuts on CSIRO, we made the case for other publicly funded research agencies and the science they perform – as outlined in our submission to the Senate’s innovation inquiry.
New Chief Executive announced
Following an international search, CSIRO Chairman Simon McKeon announced the replacement for outgoing Chief Executive Dr Megan Clark. Physicist, expatriate entrepreneur and venture capitalist Dr Larry Marshall got the nod.
The scale of the challenge facing Dr Marshall was underscored by the release of a survey report – commissioned by the CSIRO board – that revealed very low levels of staff morale and a dramatic fall in confidence in the performance of senior leaders.
Staff Association members and delegates swung into action by launching a pledge activity, which calls on Dr Marshall, the Board and senior leaders to take urgent action in addressing the serious problems facing CSIRO.
Counting the cost
With November came the news that 75 researchers in manufacturing, agriculture and digital productivity were potentially redundant.
This latest redundancy advice allowed a more complete picture of CSIRO cuts for the financial year to appear – and it wasn’t pretty. Our revised forecast revealed that CSIRO is set to lose 1 in 5 jobs over a two year period.
It was a sobering reminder of the size of the challenge to rebuild the organisation in terms of jobs, confidence and morale. And the first task – to defend our hard-won working conditions – was reinforced by the final set of enterprise agreement negotiations wheremanagement restated their regressive agenda.
Standing up for each other
Over the past twelve months the Staff Association membership has been tested like never before. And yet the capacity of our members and delegates to stand together with their colleagues – especially during dark times – never ceases to amaze me.
We’ve done our best to convey this resilience in our public campaigning against the cuts, especially through the extensive work we’ve done in drawing media attention to the situation at CSIRO.
However our best and most important efforts have been in the workplace; through the work of our delegates and organisers in supporting each other. And while we’ve had to say goodbye to many cherished colleagues, many new members of the Staff Association have joined to revitalise us.
Thanks to the representatives of the Staff Association – councillors and delegates– your tireless efforts and support throughout the year has been invaluable.
I’d also like to express my gratitude to our President Dr Michael Borgas and National Organiser Paul Girdler, plus all of the Staff Association team for your hard work.
Finally and most importantly to all the members of the Staff Association, old and new. Your commitment to our union makes everything possible.
Best wishes for the break, rest well and cherish the time with family and friends.
CSIRO Staff Association Secretary