CSIRO admits contracting boom as Senate slams staffing cap

CSIRO has admitted to a Senate committee that the application of the Government’s Average Staffing Level (ASL) restrictions has fuelled massive growth in the use of labour-hire and contactors at the expense of ongoing and fixed term employment.

Elsewhere, a scathing report from a separate parliamentary investigation into public sector service delivery has called for the immediate lifting of the ASL cap; agreeing with a Staff Association submission made last year that predicted the policy would drive an outsourcing boom at CSIRO.

Chief Operating Officer Judy Zielke revealed the extent of the growth in contract and labour hire staff, reporting an increase of more than 130 per cent since last July.

Massive increase  

In response to questions from Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice, CSIRO confessed to a massive jump in the use of contractors.

“We have around about 350 contractors (now)… it is an increase in contractors… Last financial year it was around about 150 and the year before that it was about 140,” Ms Zielke said.

Following further questioning from Senator Rice on why CSIRO needed to more than double the number of contract staff, Ms Zeilke admitted that ASL cap restrictions were largely to blame.

“We are close to our ASL cap and we’re using other mechanisms to be able to ensure that we comply with that policy… It is the prime reason (for employing more labour-hire) … It’s not the only one, but yes.”

Inquiry report

The inquiry into the impact of changes to service delivery models on the administration and running of Government programs was referred by the Senate to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee in August 2019.

In a submission to the inquiry, the Staff Association raised concerns that application of the staffing cap at CSIRO was driving an increase in contracting and labour hire – not counted for the purposes of ASL – at the expense of direct employment.

Scrap the cap

‘The CSIRO Staff Association submitted evidence of an ‘increased use of external contractors in CSIRO workplaces’ as a result of the ASL cap,” the report stated, noting that the union had ‘recommended an investigation into the CSIRO’s use of external contractors in its application of the ASL cap.’

‘The committee believes the Average Staffing Level (ASL) cap has led agencies to use more and more contract labour, ultimately costing the tax-payer more than the cost of equivalent in-house staff. The ASL cap has led to unintended economic outcomes, bolstering the private sector and labour hire companies without improving the budget bottom line. It is an inflexible and arbitrary imposition, and should be lifted,’ the report stated.

‘The committee recommends that the Commonwealth public service Average Staffing Level cap be lifted immediately.’

Visa privatisation

The controversial plan to privatise Australia’s visa processing system also attracted the attention of the inquiry. Government moves to auction immigration IT infrastructure had already attracted sustained criticism, with the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) warning that over 2,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the sell off.

‘Outsourcing Australia’s visa processing system is a project fraught with risks, and the committee is not satisfied that these risks have been sufficiently addressed,’ the report concluded. ‘The committee has concerns around procurement risk, data security, and equitable access to data and information for potentially vulnerable cohorts. The committee is also concerned about the lack of transparency around the tender process.

‘The committee recommends that the Australian government does not proceed with (the privatisation process) and seeks instead to fund and deliver an in-house solution.’

Integrity test?

CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly welcomed the report.

“Our visa system is an essential service and must be kept in public hands to ensure its integrity. That’s why it is so critical the Senate votes to protect Australia’s visa system, and the more than 2000 jobs that go with it.”

“If the Prime Minister was serious about national security, he would ditch this plan and lift the staffing cap to build capacity and future proof this system. But all we see from this government are cuts and privatisation and damn the consequences.”

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