CSIRO Staff Association Secretary Susan Tonks reflects on a year where the landscape for CSIRO and the Australian community shifted dramatically and considers the challenges ahead in 2023.
IT’S WORTHWHILE thinking back to the start of the year when reflecting on some of the big changes we have witnessed together in 2022.
As we returned to work in January, coronavirus case numbers continued to rise as CSIRO implemented a workplace direction requiring staff and visitors attending worksites to be vaccinated.
Elsewhere, the Coalition Government swung into campaign mode ahead of the federal election, aiming to secure the beginning of a second decade in power.
Now, we reach the end of the year with another surge in covid cases, minus almost any mandatory restrictions or public health measures, while the new Labor Government marks the completion of their first six months in office.
The health and safety of CSIRO employees continued to be a key priority for the union throughout 2022 and we represented the views of staff in regular meetings with CSIRO’s Covid Response Team.
This activity was built on the efforts of our own Covid Working Group, comprised of delegates and members, who provided direct feedback from CSIRO workplaces and drove our engagement from the ground up.
We adopted a similar approach to wider health and safety issues, most notably through our SafetyFirst network of delegates and independent Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs).
With new regulations being released next year aimed at improving psychosocial health at work, the Staff Association will keep on ensuring that CSIRO employees are represented on workplace health and safety issues.
After months of shadow campaigning, the release of the federal budget in late March effectively fired the starter’s gun on the election race, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing a poll date of 21 May.
While science failed to feature in the wider campaign, the emergence of plans to slash CSIRO wine research in the days before the election, revived bad memories of past job cuts that largely defined science policies under the Coalition Government.
However, voters punished the Liberal Party, which lost seats to both Labor and the independents, including several blue riband electorates in affluent areas of Melbourne in Sydney. Labor won a majority of 77 in the House of Representatives, with the Greens and Independents forming a massive 16-member crossbench, while the Liberal and Nationals were reduced to 58 in the 151 seat chamber.
In the Senate, gains to the Greens, minor parties and independents – again at the expense of the Coalition – means the new Labor Government requires the support of the Greens and one crossbench Senator to pass legislation.
A new Federal Government heralds a new direction for public sector bargaining policy and the best opportunity in nearly a decade to improve CSIRO workplace rights and conditions.
Under the former government, CSIRO endured record funding cuts, job losses and staffing restrictions. The imposition of regressive bargaining policies also stymied pay increases and weakened legal protections for working conditions.
With the CSIRO Enterprise Agreement due for renegotiation in 2023, the Staff Association has devoted significant time and resources this year preparing for the upcoming campaign, especially though our bargaining survey and national report meetings.
We end the year well placed and plan to present a comprehensive bargaining position for the endorsement of members in early 2023.
Staff Association representatives recently met with Science Minister Ed Husic as part of a formal consultation process to devise a new Statement of Expectations for CSIRO.
During that meeting we stressed the importance of securing CSIRO funding and jobs, striking the right balance between commercialisation and public good research and the challenge of improving workplace consultation and employee engagement.
The Federal Government has signalled major changes to consultation policies in Commonwealth workplaces and our own recent bargaining survey results place the issue as a top priority in upcoming enterprise agreement negotiations.
Consultation is particularly topical, given the recent move to create a new Environment business unit at CSIRO – bringing together the workforces of Oceans and Atmosphere and Land and Water – which attracted immediate criticism from staff due to the lack of pre-decision consultation.
Alongside the response to the Statement of Expectations, the CSIRO Board must undertake a search to replace outgoing Chief Executive Larry Marshall, who exits the role in June 2023.
It all adds up for an interesting year ahead for CSIRO, where we should expect the organisation not only to adapt to a new policymaking environment but also confront existing workforce challenges.
The organisation’s ongoing inability to meet its Average Staffing Level allocation speaks not only to a competitive labour market but larger, structural problems concerning career pathways, job security and the poor standard of pay and remuneration at CSIRO.
These are issues that will be thrown into sharp relief as CSIRO workplace issues take centre stage during enterprise bargaining in 2023.
It’s another busy year ahead but with cause for optimism. Our circumstances have changed and the horizon has shifted. However, success is not assured automatically; we’ll need to continue to work hard and support each other in order to realise these opportunities.
I want to thank our members, delegates, councillors, organisers and support staff for all their hard work throughout the year, it’s deeply appreciated.
Please accept my best wishes on behalf of the Staff Association for a safe and restful holiday season. I’m excited about the year to come and what we can achieve together.
Secretary, CSIRO Staff Association