The industrial dispute to mitigate controversial CSIRO job cuts – first announced by Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall in February 2016 – is finally over, lasting a record-breaking 542 days.
CSIRO Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski confirmed the end of the Fair Work Commission dispute on 31 July 2017.
“While the length of dispute is noteworthy, the ultimate outcome – the significant mitigation of cuts and many dozens of CSIRO jobs saved from the axe – is of greater significance,” Mr Popovski said.
Dr Marshall announcement on 4 February 2016 that up to 370 CSIRO jobs would be cut – including a large cohort of climate science researchers – sent shockwaves throughout the country and across the world.
Staff Association councillors – representing CSIRO workers from across the country –voted to escalate the dispute by referring the matter to the Fair Work Commission, initially on the grounds of inadequate consultation before widening the scope of the dispute to encompass the redundancy process itself.
Standing up for CSIRO jobs
Reflecting on the decision, Mr Popovski said that the decision exemplified the union’s duty to protect the employment of CSIRO workers, whatever the circumstances.
“The Staff Association has a responsibility to do everything we can do to protect jobs at CSIRO – including the use of the legally enforceable provisions of our Enterprise Agreement – and that’s exactly what we did.
Limiting the damage
Mr Popovski said the combination of union action, public pressure and parliamentary scrutiny saw the initial estimates of 370 potential redundancies fall by 70 to approximately 300 positions.
“Also, by the end of the dispute, we estimated that the Staff Association’s direct action in the Fair Work Commission resulted in the redeployment of more than 30 staff to other areas of CSIRO.
“That’s a total of more than 100 staff working in CSIRO now that wouldn’t have been if the decision of 4 February 2016 was implemented.
“In addition, more than 50 per cent of the total redundancies involved voluntary substitutions; ensuring the retention of many talented staff while allowing those ready to leave to call time on their CSIRO careers.
Counting the cost
More detail has recently emerged on the redundancy costs of cuts to climate scientists. Fairfax Media reported that “information provided to a Senate committee this month showed 29 redundancies from the science and research body’s climate science programs cost $2.88 million, including all benefits and notice period payments to the sacked workers.”
“CSIRO management originally planned to cut 100 climate scientist jobs, but backed down a public outcry and reduced the planned job losses to 70 positions.
“Originally 74 jobs were expected to be lost from the oceans and atmospheres division, but that number was revised down to 54 through staff reassignments and other mitigation efforts,” the report states.