Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski reflects on a testing 2016 for CSIRO and looks to the year ahead.
IT’S NO UNDERSTATEMENT in describing 2016 as a tumultuous year for everyone at CSIRO. That’s almost become the norm – given successive years of cuts to research and funding – but it’s fair to say that the jobs bombshell that detonated in February continues to reverberate throughout the organisation, eleven months later.
After suffering the loss of 1 in 5 colleagues over the previous two years; a new Chief Executive plus a change in Prime Minister gave many CSIRO staff cause for cautious optimism. That’s why the controversial decision to cut hundreds more jobs across the country – with a particular emphasis on targeting roles attached to public interest research – shocked so many of us.
However the outcry and expression of solidarity with the CSIRO workforce and Staff Association members – from the Australian public, global science community and international media – shines strong in memory and won’t soon be forgotten.
Combined with scrutiny from the Australian Senate that exposed CSIRO Executive’s litany of mistakes and errors; public pressure forced the forecast job losses to fall. Around 300 roles – down from 370 – were earmarked to go and in the final tally we estimate an additional 32 staff were redeployed and stayed with CSIRO. In addition, we estimate 53% of redundancies were voluntary substitutions. Both of these mitigating outcomes were achieved as a result of the Staff Association’s enforcement of legal rights in the Enterprise Agreement.
The outcome of the Federal Election saw the Coalition Government returned by the slimmest of margins in the lower house and a further expansion of the crossbench power in the Senate. However for us the campaign should be remembered as the first in decades where research, science and innovation policy edged closer to centre stage.
Indeed both Labor and The Greens pledged more than $300 million in funding for CSIRO; recognising the premier role Australia’s most important government laboratory plays in building this nation’s prosperity.
While the Coalition failed to match these funding commitments, perhaps the message was not lost on the Turnbull Government; with new Science Minister Greg Hunt quickly asserting himself in the role and ordering CSIRO to change tack and safeguard public good research. The Minister has also set the self-described ambitious goal of making CSIRO the world’s premier public research organisation within the next decade. As they say, time will tell.
2016 witnessed an eventful year in public sector enterprise bargaining with the continuation of the long-running campaign against the Federal Government’s regressive industrial relations policy. And after more than two years since the nominal expiry of the current enterprise agreement, all CSIRO staff finally got a chance to vote on a management offer; albeit a very poor deal that sought to strip rights and conditions from the protection of a legally enforceable agreement.
And so, after all the management dissembling and delays, excuses and dashed expectations; it came time for staff to vote – and the result was emphatic. More than three-quarters of staff (76 per cent) participated in the ballot and of those that voted 70 per cent rejected the proposal. Since then, a further avalanche of NO votes across the Federal public sector decisively confirmed that the Government’s bargaining approach is ruined as we head into 2017.
Just like the campaign throughout the year to protect jobs and research, Staff Association members stuck together in enterprise bargaining and displayed steely determination in defence of hard-won working conditions. I’ve rarely been prouder of the collective efforts of our members, delegates, and councillors. Thank you.
Redundancies have forced us to farewell many members, all too often marking the end of distinguished contributions to CSIRO. It is with no small regret we must say good bye to Staff Association Councillors Patrick Merrigan (Western Australia), Yalchin Oytam (New South Wales) and our long-serving President, Dr Michael Borgas.
Michael Borgas has been President of the Staff Association since 2003 and will be sorely missed. Yet Michael’s far-sighted leadership of our union and vision for a vibrant CSIRO and publically funded research in Australia will ensure his legacy will endure for years to come.
I wish all members a relaxing break with loved ones, and thank you for the determination, spirit and contribution all have made to the Staff Association’s effort this year. All of the Team and I are looking forward to next year and the opportunities we hope to share in advancing the interests of Staff Association members within CSIRO and in society at large.
Staff Association Secretary