CSIRO staffing cap challenged at Fair Work Commission

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has been asked to decide whether the application of the Average Staffing Level (ASL) cap at CSIRO has resulted in the breach of the enterprise agreement and workplace laws.

Meanwhile, CSIRO Staff Association delegates and members in Newcastle have highlighted the impact of the cap during a meeting with Shadow Science Minister Brendan O’Connor.

Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski launched the legal action with the FWC amid the increased use in CSIRO of external contractors and labour hire in the application of ASL cap restrictions.

“We’ve taken this action because it’s clear that to get around the cap CSIRO is outsourcing work to contractors, consultants and labour hire firms that is clearly of an ongoing and indefinite nature; and in our opinion that’s a clear breach of the rules,” Mr Popovski said.

Fair Work Commission

Representatives from both CSIRO Human Resources and the Staff Association appeared before FWC Deputy President Richard Clancy in a bid to resolve the formal dispute.

The dispute alleges CSIRO is in breach of provisions of the current Enterprise Agreement (EA) on types of employment, existing conditions and the context of the agreement.

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Staff Association case

Staff Association representatives stated to the Commission that CSIRO is in potential breach of Clause 10 of the EA, by undermining indefinite employment as the standard form of employment in CSIRO.

Clause 10 states:

Officers shall be appointed on the basis of… indefinite employment; specified term employment or casual employment… subject to Schedule 2 (specified term) to this Agreement, indefinite employment will be the standard form of employment in CSIRO.

The Staff Association alleges that CSIRO is in potential breach of an additional section of the agreement (Clause 8) because the application of ASL cap policy at CSIRO is inconsistent with the terms of the EA relating to types of employment.

CSIRO response

HR representatives stated that CSIRO is not in breach of any clauses of the EA and is simply implementing a policy and budgetary measures that are being imposed by the Federal Government.

CSIRO management also raised jurisdictional objections to the Staff Association’s dispute.

Deputy President Clancy determined that he would provide four weeks for both parties to hold discussions and seek to resolve the dispute before reporting back to the Commission.

The next conciliation hearing at the Commission is scheduled on Monday 9 December.

Newcastle meeting

Meanwhile, Staff Association delegates and members from CSIRO’s Newcastle Energy Centre met with visiting Shadow Science Minister Brendan O’Connor.

Hosted by Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon, the meeting provided an opportunity for the federal representatives to hear first-hand accounts on the impact of the ASL cap on CSIRO science and research.

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“This is the world-class institution that invented wi-fi, plastic bank notes and Aerogard, to name just a few; it’s foolish to shackle Australia’s top scientists from making new important breakthroughs,” Mr O’Connor said.

“(The ASL cap) has essentially created a staffing freeze that is forcing CSIRO researchers to fill vacancies with external contractors at a premium price,” Ms Claydon said.

“Not only does this mean that taxpayers are spending more to get less, this also undermines the pay and conditions of existing workers and locking a generation of STEM graduates out of long-term scientific work.”

Newcastle CSIRO Staff Association delegate Mike Collins said workers were concerned the cap’s application “is putting the breakthrough energy research projects happening at Newcastle at risk”.

“The CSIRO Staff Association calls upon the government to lift the staffing cap on CSIRO… It makes no sense for a budget savings measure to increase the cost of delivering research by forcing CSIRO to use labour hire and contractors, instead of CSIRO science jobs,” Mr Collins said.

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