CSIRO Staff Association Acting Secretary Susan Tonks looks back on the year that was and previews what’s shaping up to be a busy 2022.
JUST WHEN WE THOUGHT we were starting to move on from the pandemic, the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant means the resilience of CSIRO staff faces another test. 2021 has been a big year, and for many, extremely challenging.
Despite the difficulties, Staff Association members, delegates and councillors have continued to work together and support each other, focusing on keeping CSIRO workplaces safe and progressing key issues.
2021 was the first year following the conclusion of negotiations for the CSIRO Enterprise Agreement (EA) 2020-2023. The hard work of the Staff Association bargaining team – comprised of councillors, delegates and members – delivered a new EA, approved and on time in November 2020.
The CSIRO EA was one of the last deals struck within the larger CPSU membership and across the federal public sector before further restrictions were added to the government’s bargaining policy. Those changes have enabled salary increases in other agencies below 2 per cent in the first year and no guaranteed or set percentage pay increases in subsequent years.
With a federal election due within the next six months, the Staff Association will work with CPSU members across the public sector to campaign for a better bargaining policy; with a focus on strengthening our negotiating position heading into the next CSIRO EA campaign in early 2023.
We built on last year’s work as part of the CSIRO response to COVID-19 and expanded our activities in 2021 to form a wider focus on health and safety.
The combined effort was driven by our delegates and members around the country who formed our Covid working group which informed our fortnightly engagement with CSIRO’s Situation Management Team.
In addition to our advocacy that helped secure paid vaccination leave and site-specific Covid-safe plans, we spent time tracking the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the CSIRO workforce; with two major survey exercises leading the development of a National Workplace Health, Safety and Wellbeing Report, released earlier this month.
This work showed the importance of having active, independent Health and Safety Representative (HSR) networks in CSIRO workplaces and highlighted the critical role HSRs play in representing workers on health and safety issues.
Through a new SafetyFirst network led by Staff Association delegates and HSRs, we’ll continue to prioritise workplace health and safety at CSIRO in 2022 as the pandemic enters a third year.
We continued our campaigning work for secure CSIRO jobs, increased funding and the removal of Average Staffing Level (aSL) restrictions.
While May’s federal budget featured an increased staffing allocation for CSIRO – and the effective end of the ASL cap across the public sector – the employment picture remains murky.
Despite the easing of employment restrictions and a funding lifeline from the federal government, CSIRO expects staffing to remain around current levels, almost 400 positions below the new ASL figure.
In fact, the movement has been in the other direction, with significant job cuts this year in Data61 and the Manufacturing business unit. This week’s announcement of the appointment of US-based consultants McKinsey to ‘simplify and streamline’ organisational processes to align better with CSIRO strategy, is cause for concern in the absence of any guarantee ruling out further job cuts.
Our campaign to protect Australian science and CSIRO jobs will pick up in 2022 and the union’s activities will also highlight the recent and increasingly varied challenges to science integrity.
Next year will be busier than ever with a federal election in the first half of the year, alongside our ongoing organising work to support Staff Association members and protect working conditions at CSIRO.
My sincere thanks for all of the hard work from our members, delegates, councillors, organisers and support staff throughout 2021.
I hope you all get time to rest and relax with family and friends over the festive season and I’m looking forward to working with you all in the new year.
Susan Tonks is the Acting Secretary of the CSIRO Staff Association.