Staff Association continues fight against staffing cap and recruitment freeze

The Staff Association has expressed dismay and concern at the recent actions of the Federal Government and CSIRO Executive, which has resulted in an effective recruitment freeze throughout the organisation.

For several months, Staff Association representatives have been opposing the application of an Average Staffing Level (ASL) cap at CSIRO.

Background information

Track the development of this issue – including correspondence between the Staff Association, CSIRO Executive and Government – at our campaign page.

What is ASL?

ASL is the mechanism through the Federal Budget, for Government to align staffing levels to the funding allocated to individual agencies and departments. Historically, as long as agencies such as CSIRO kept broadly to their ASL and were within their finances, Government did not intervene.

However, under the Turnbull and Morrison Governments, the ASL started to be managed as a ‘hard cap’, in that departments could not go beyond their ASL, even if they had the finances to hire more staff. The Community and Public Sector Union campaigned strongly against this process, including gaining commitments to ‘scrap the cap’ from Labor and the Greens before the Federal election.

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ASL cap is a mechanism for outsourcing

Federal public sector workers know that the ASL cap is farcical, particularly as it doesn’t result in Government savings. Instead agencies and departments are spending hundreds of millions of dollars more on contractors, consultants and labour hire.

In effect, it’s a Government tool for work to be outsourced, to companies that often hire workers on reduced pay and conditions, with little to no job security. There are no savings to the taxpayer, as the companies take their sizable cut, which would have otherwise gone to public sector programs and workers.


In the 2018-19 financial year, CSIRO was 110 over its ASL cap (5293 vs 5183). However, this was permitted by Government, because ASL was managed at a portfolio level by departments, not individual agencies, and the Department of Industry, which CSIRO is considered part of, was below its overall ASL.

Coming into 2019-20, the Federal Government seemingly changed its approach, directing CSIRO to immediately get below its ASL cap this year (5193): irrespective of the Department of Industry’s overall ASL; and irrespective of CSIRO’s own finances and the ability to fund positions above the ASL figure.

ASL cap will undermine CSIRO strategy and science

The inability to retain and hire staff this financial year will severely undermine the ability of CSIRO to deliver on its strategy, excellent science and innovation, and contracts with customers.

It will also threaten the achievement of CSIRO’s new challenges and digital transformation program as well as key objectives for Science and Gender Equity (SAGE) and health and safety.

What has the Chief Executive done?

The Staff Association has pursued this matter directly with the Chief Executive at the last two Consultative Council meetings, in December 2018 and June 2019. As members know, CSIRO is an independent statutory authority; sources its own finances from external sources; and under its Act, the Chief Executive is responsible for the employment of staff.

At those meetings, the Chief Executive acknowledged the difficulty in convincing Government to take a different approach on ASL at CSIRO. Under questioning from the Staff Association, the Chief Executive highlighted examples where CSIRO have asked for certain groups of staff not be counted as part of ASL. This included Pawsey Centre staff, who were brought into CSIRO as a decision of Government (with no adjustment to ASL) as well as core security and safety staff. This approach has not been successful.

Consultation on the recruitment freeze

The Staff Association was only made aware of the changes impacting on the recruitment of all positions in CSIRO through our members, not by CSIRO Executive, HR or at the 19 June meeting of Consultative Council. Staff more broadly have also not been consulted.

At the 19 June meeting, CSIRO Executive stated that the organisation was ‘well positioned to meet the existing budget in 2019-20’ and that the ASL was ‘tracking higher but being managed at a portfolio level with the Department’.

Further the Chief Executive noted only that there would be a ‘slow down on recruitment’ and that though the Government is good at outsourcing, ‘we can’t outsource good science’ at CSIRO.

Recruitment freeze is an effective job cut

Effectively, CSIRO has started a process to cut jobs. Not only will less new positions be created, but many term and casual positions are likely not to be renewed in 2019-20. This will affect the ability of many projects to deliver and further increase the workloads of staff.

With the upcoming Annual Performance and Investment Review (APaIR) assessing all Business Units in September and October, the Staff Association is also very concerned that further job cuts may also occur, including because funds have also been siphoned from Business Units for the challenges and digital transformation program.

‘Efficiency dividend’ impact

The Staff Association questioned CSIRO Executive on 2019-20 finances at the 19 June meeting of Consultative Council.  This financial year, CSIRO’s overall appropriation funding is increasing by only $4 million ($834 to $838 million) or 0.5%, due to the impact of the Government’s additional 1.25% ‘efficiency dividend’, announced two days before the 18 May Federal election.

The 1.25% cut removes more than $10 million from this year’s finances, effectively translating to up to 100 positions less in the organisation. As a result of this, CSIRO’s external revenue must grow by at least 3%, just to achieve staffing levels of 5193 (ASL cap this year), which is 100 positions below the 2018-19 level.

What’s next?

The Staff Association is opposing the staffing freeze at all levels. We will be talking to the community, including through the media, to highlight the immediate damage being done to CSIRO’s science and technology and Australia’s innovation future.

We will continue to oppose the move internally, enforce the Enterprise Agreement, including on consultation, and protect the jobs, conditions and wellbeing of our members.

Most importantly, members should raise all problems with the Staff Association. Our representatives will stand up for each and every job that is critical to our national prosperity, whether it be our future economy, environment or society.

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