The latest CSIRO employment data makes for grim reading with total job numbers on course to contract by 10 per cent over the past twelve months.
Specified term employees, postdocs and casual staff are hardest hit, as CSIRO spent much of the past year applying Average Staffing Level (ASL) restrictions imposed by the Federal Government.
“The employment forecast looks bleak with senior CSIRO Executives predicting a steep fall in external earnings due to the looming recession amid private concerns that government austerity measures may threaten appropriation funding,” Staff Association Sam Popovski said.
Figures obtained by CSIRO Staff Association show an employee headcount of 5,336 as of 31 May 2020; a decrease of 579 or ten per cent from the total 5,915 recorded on 1 July 2019.
While anecdotal evidence suggests that the non-renewal of specified term contracts amounted to a significant component of the losses, casual employment was slugged with the loss of more than 280 staff.
Postdocs took a hit with a fall of 70 positions, a situation likely to be remedied with CSIRO due to announce plans to recruit a similar number of early career researchers in coming months.
Outsourcing at CSIRO continues to grow with the latest numbers showing 425 staff employed as contractors or labour-hire, not counted for the purposes of calculating ASL.
The new total represents a further advance on numbers provided to Senate Estimates in March where Chief Operating Officer Judi Zielke revealed a 130 per cent increase in contract staff since July 2019; admitting at the time 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,” Ms Zeilke said.
CSIRO leaders face a funding squeeze in the months ahead with external earnings set to fall as economic conditions continue to deteriorate.
In a recent all staff briefing, CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall forecast that revenue could decline between $50-100 million as businesses and government clients wind up projects and choose not to renew research partnerships.
Dr Marshall said that while there were currently no plans to cut jobs and that cash reserves would cushion the budget shortfall; speculation continues to grow that the Federal Government will use the October budget to implement funding cuts across the public sector in response to spending incurred as part of the initial response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Three more years
In an email to staff, CSIRO Chairman David Thodey announced that Dr Marshall’s tenure as Chief Executive would be extended by three years.
“Larry has led CSIRO with vision, commitment and belief in CSIRO’s unique purpose for the past five years. We are well positioned to face future challenges thanks to Larry’s leadership, but also thanks to (the) commitment, talent and dedication (of staff),” Mr Thodey said.
Dr Marshall must act to stop further CSIRO job cuts, Mr Popovski said.
“An immediate challenge for Dr Marshall will be to arrest the jobs slide that has taken place over the past twelve months. Otherwise the Government and community attention on CSIRO in relation to research on COVID-19 and responding to the Australian bushfires will amount to nothing,” Mr Popovski said.