CSIRO staffing levels and recruitment strategies will form a key focus of the upcoming Consultative Council meeting between senior executives and Staff Association representatives.
Staff Association Acting Secretary Susan Tonks said that improving recruitment and increasing staffing levels should be a key focus for CSIRO.
“The Staff Association is concerned that reduced staffing levels at CSIRO are contributing to excessive workloads and increases in workplace related stress. We’re hearing from staff that project milestones are under significant pressure and new opportunities are being missed due to a lack of resources.”
“CSIRO’s own staff survey results recently revealed that 42 per cent of respondents reported often feeling anxious about work with heavy workloads, project delivery and unrealistic deadlines cited as major drivers of workforce stress,” Ms Tonks said.
Previously subject to tight restrictions due to the Federal Government’s average staffing level (ASL) cap, CSIRO employee numbers have steadily fallen over several years; from 5,915 in June 2019 down to 5,018 in May 2021.
The imposition of ASL restrictions – calculated for CSIRO at 5,193 for financial year 2019-20 – stymied recruitment, fueled job losses and the non-renewal of term contracts, boosted labour-hire employment (not counted for ASL reporting) and sparked a Staff Association campaign to ‘scrap the cap.’
Last October’s federal budget included a $459.2 million lifeline for CSIRO to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on external earnings and included ASL relief. However, the May 2021 budget spelled the effective end of the ASL cap with staffing levels set to reach 5,414 in 2021-22.
Explaining the shift in approach, the May 2021 budget papers state ‘as a product of continued deliberate workforce planning, it is expected that over the medium and longer term there will be modest underlying ASL growth as Australia recovers its equilibrium and gets back to normal rates of economic and population growth.’
Yet despite the easing of ASL restrictions, funding safety net and projected recovery of external earnings over the forward estimates, Chief Operating Officer Judi Zielke told Senate Estimates recently that she did not expect CSIRO staffing to increase.
“We go up and down, like most organisations. Throughout the year, a major project might come to an end and a new one hasn’t started yet – those sorts of things. But, no, we expect to remain the same,” Ms Zielke said.
In a letter responding to Staff Association questions regarding staffing levels, Ms Zielke admitted that CSIRO would not meet the organisation’s increased ASL allocation.
“Our allocation for 2020-21 is 5,351 and at this stage we only expect to utilise 5018 of that allocation… we’ve expected to be under (this year’s) allocation for some time.”
“As our resourcing requirements are so closely tied to the needs of industry, the continued impact of COVID-19 on our partners, and border closures, means it is unlikely we will fully utilise our ASL in the short-term.”
“We expect to utilise more of our allocation in future years, as we executive our Annual Performance and Investment Review growth initiatives and business unit strategy shifts in priority areas,” Ms Zielke said.