CSIRO’s Data 61 has announced heavy cuts to both jobs and research in a shock move only weeks after basking in the federal budget limelight.
Up to seventy jobs are on the chopping block and seven research capabilities will be shut down, as the business unit shifts to a new strategy devised by incoming Director Jon Whittle, who took up the reins at Data 61 in July 2020.
“This decision to cut up to seventy jobs at Data 61 is a real concern, especially given the positive statements made recently by CSIRO Executive of the importance of the business unit to the Governments’ digital economy strategy,” CSIRO Staff Association Acting Secretary Susan Tonks said.
“Staff Association organisers have already started work to support affected members and protect workplace rights. Where possible the union is fighting to save CSIRO jobs by minimising and mitigating involuntary redundancies,” Ms Tonks said.
“As part of this (restructuring) process, we will increase our size in key strategic areas, while exiting some others,” Dr Whittle said in an email to staff.
“We will be growing and creating new jobs in areas including artificial intelligence, capabilities to support recovery and resilience, and digital transformation.”
While confirming up to seventy people “will be impacted by the changes,” Dr Whittle denied the moves represented a cut, describing the new strategy as “a reshaping and not a downsizing of our business unit” and further claiming that “within two years we expect headcount to be at similar levels to today.”
In advice provided to the Staff Association by Data 61 leadership, the proposed job cuts are spelled out in stark detail.
‘Up to 70 positions will be impacted by the proposed changes, approximately 57 potential redundancies and approximately 8 potential early term ends. An additional 4 staff have or will conclude at the end of their term in affected areas,’ the advice states.
The cuts will be spread across ten Data 61 workplaces across the country; with sites in Sydney (38 people), Brisbane (17) and Canberra (6) hardest hit.
The changes will result in the reduction or exit of capability across many research areas, primarily in the ‘Software Computational Systems program, followed by the Cyber Physical Systems and Analytics and Decision Sciences programs.’
Research capability facing cuts or complete shutdown include ‘Formal methods, programming languages & operating systems, Transport as an Application Domain, Biological Data Science, Legal Informatics, Wireless Systems, Optimisation, Reshaping Robotics Capability, Reshaping Engineering & Design Capability and Databases/Data Integrations.’
An example highlighted by media reports is the Trusted Systems research team – responsible for the extremely hard to hack seL4 microkernel – which is now being eyed off by overseas buyers including Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer Li Auto and Singapore’s research and science agency A*STAR.
“There will be approximately 70 growth positions (including current recruitment) and an additional 30 post doc positions… we expect to be able to redeploy a number of our people both within the BU and more broadly across CSIRO, so we expect the final number of impacted people to be fewer,” Dr Whittle said.
Staff Association organisers and delegates are already supporting dozens of union members in Data 61, Ms Tonks said.