Criticism of inadequate consultation at CSIRO shows no sign of abating, with the decision to create a new Environment Business Unit striking a chord of discontent at the quality of staff engagement processes.
The disquiet comes as the Federal Government signals major changes to consultation policies in Commonwealth workplaces and staff survey results place the issue as a top priority in upcoming enterprise agreement negotiations.
However, CSIRO Executive have doubled down and defended consultation processes for the new business unit (BU), despite dumping initial commitments to provide group staff meetings to discuss the shakeup.
The move to create a new Environment BU – bringing together the workforces of Oceans and Atmosphere (OA) and Land and Water (LW) – attracted immediate criticism from staff due to the lack of pre-decision consultation.
While the timing of the announcement took many by surprise, the top-down flex from CSIRO Executive and Board had many OA and LW staff feeling left out in the cold.
In announcing the decision, newly anointed Environment Director Dan Metcalfe said that senior management would “reach out to (staff) for comment and suggestions… existing leadership teams will be identifying opportunities to discuss the transition in program meetings, ‘town hall’ type meetings and more casual on-site engagements,” as well as setting up a dedicated intranet site and email address.
At a recent Staff Association meeting of LW and OA employees, the deeply felt dismay at the lack of consultation was hard to ignore.
“Stakeholder engagement is the biggest disappointment for me,” said one attendee. “The senior management involved have spent six years engaging with people other than us, and I would suggest that employees are the number one stakeholder.
“Consultation after the decision is not consultation… what we expect from consultation is that staff are treated as stakeholders… we adamantly reject being invited to consultation after the decision has been made.”
Another participant highlighted the limited opportunity for staff discussion concerning major workforce change.
“This is the first time we’ve been allowed to talk to each other in this process in an open forum… I think that doesn’t reflect so well on the (management consultation) process in that it takes the Staff Association to bring us together where we can talk to each other.”
“The more you involve people in consultation, the better the chances of an optimal outcome that most people will accept because they were genuinely involved.”
In a subsequent meeting with Dr Metcalfe and Executive Director Peter Mayfield, Staff Association representatives relayed the key concerns of affected employees.
In addition to the lack of genuine consultation and feeling like not being considered as a major stakeholder, staff expressed confusion at both the catalyst and reasoning behind the decision.
Support staff from both OA and LW expressed job security fears given potential overlap of existing positions under the new structure.
CSIRO Executives defended the consultation process, dismissed staff concerns and offered a standard defence of the lack of pre-decision engagement; that bringing in too many people into the process makes it all too difficult.
Senior management revealed that an additional third stage of consultation will commence in early 2023. However, large scale staff meetings or ‘town hall’ style gatherings will no longer be scheduled; with Executives claiming that the format tended to be dominated by louder voices.
Instead, the new BU leadership favour small group meetings or informal interactions as examples of “more fulsome engagement”.
Whether CSIRO’s approach to consultation satisfies the newly released expectations of the Federal Government is up for debate. Last month the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) published updated advice on the subject, in language that should cause CSIRO Executive to take notice.
‘Genuine and effective consultation with employees and relevant unions is sound management practice. It fosters a positive and inclusive workplace culture, where the views of employees are considered and taken into account before decisions that substantially impact them are made or implemented,’ the advice states.
‘The Government expects Commonwealth agencies, as model employers, to put in place measures that support to the greatest extent practical genuine consultation about major change and other issues, before any final decision has been made by a decision maker, including the agency head.’
Just how much work needs to be done on consultation at CSIRO is underscored by the results of the recent Staff Association bargaining survey, which attracted more than eight hundred participants from across the organisation.
A massive 92 per cent said that CSIRO staff should have access to meaningful consultation, before decisions are made and with the capacity to influence outcomes.
As one respondent commented, “the recent merger of OA and LW is a perfect case in point. There has been zero consultation regarding the fundamental decision. The only consultation will be around the minutiae.”
The Staff Association has requested that CSIRO Executive provide more information on formal consultation processes for the creation of the new Environment BU, including detailed timeframes and commitment to engage with staff representatives.
More broadly, it’s clear that consultation processes at CSIRO will form a key contest in the upcoming bargaining round with staff expressing overwhelming support for improvement.
Meanwhile, the lack of communication to staff in response to the APSC advice on consultation could indicate either that CSIRO Executive aren’t listening to the government, are conflicted on how to reply or are simply struggling for something to say.
As union members, we work together to protect CSIRO jobs and improve pay and working conditions. The stronger our numbers, the greater our influence and the better outcomes we can secure.
There’s always a place for you here at the Staff Association. Join us today.