Discontent around low CSIRO pay rates represents a major problem for the leadership of Australia’s premier science agency, with a showdown on salaries and remuneration set for upcoming enterprise agreement negotiations.
“Securing a decent pay increase has been identified as the top priority for the upcoming CSIRO bargaining round,” Staff Association Secretary Susan Tonks said.
“Staff are not only struggling with the increased costs-of-living; they’re also telling us that CSIRO salaries are increasingly uncompetitive and the organisation is struggling to attract and retain talented employees,” Ms Tonks said.
CSIRO’s current enterprise agreement is due to expire in November 2023 and the three-year, multi-billion-dollar contract is up for renegotiation over coming months. The recent release of new public sector bargaining rules provides clear advice for employers, such as CSIRO, to start preparations for negotiations.
“The Staff Association is well-prepared and ready to go. I wrote to CSIRO senior management last week, requesting a meeting to discuss facility arrangements for bargaining representatives and to set a timetable for negotiations,” Ms Tonks said.
“While the progress of service-wide bargaining in the Australian Public Service will have a significant influence on the shape of enterprise agreement negotiations at CSIRO, there’s no reason why we can’t start talks and a wider discussion on the issues that are important to staff; principally securing a competitive pay increase, protecting working conditions, making superannuation arrangements more equitable and improving consultation.”
CSIRO pay was the number one issue nominated by staff as part of an enterprise bargaining survey conducted last October, which attracted more than 800 participants from across the organisation.
When asked what motivation was driving the importance of the pay issue, respondents nominated rising costs of living, the gap between CSIRO salaries and the rest of the research sector and the increasingly difficult struggle to attract and retain talented staff.
“The gap between salaries in other parts of the research industry and what’s on offer at CSIRO has been widening and the problem has only become more acute following a decade of wage suppression under the previous Coalition Federal Government,” Ms Tonks said.
When asked to nominate a preferred by outcome, the largest minority (35%) of respondents selected at least 6 per cent per annum, or 18 per cent over a three-year agreement.
There was also significant support for annual increases of 5 per cent (21%) and 4 per cent (29%). All up, more than three-quarters of respondents (85%) wanted a pay rise no lower than 4 percent.
By contrast, in service-wide bargaining negotiations with the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), the starting position on pay put forward by CPSU representatives is 20 per cent over three years (front loaded and comprised of annual increases of 9,6 and 5%) with a cost of living adjustment including extra payment in any year that the Consumer Price Index is higher than the pay increase.
During the last enterprise agreement campaign, the Staff Association campaigned for all staff to receive equal access to 15.4 per cent superannuation contribution, regardless of fund.
When asked again as part of this latest survey, 66% of respondents agreed that all staff should receive 15.4 per cent superannuation, regardless of fund, while less than a third (30%) were happy with current super arrangements.
Apart from the unfairness of inequitable rates of deduction, many staff nominated the lacklustre performance of Commonwealth funds and poor ethical investment decisions driving the push to shake up Super rules at CSIRO.
Over multiple negotiations, over many agreements, CSIRO staff have consistently identified working conditions as a key priority for enterprise bargaining. An overwhelming 85% of respondents said it was very important to protect existing CSIRO working conditions.
Among other issues, staff nominated the importance of including working from home rights in the enterprise agreement (61 %), nominating a minimum and defined entitlement for domestic violence leave (64%) and making access to maternity and parental leave an equal entitlement (76%) for birth mothers, partners, adoption, fostering and guardianship.
“Staff want conditions maintained and expanded in the enterprise agreement to provide more legal protection for CSIRO workplace rights,” Ms Tonks said.
Given CSIRO’s record of job cuts and staffing restrictions, it’s not surprising job security is an important issue for staff. Three quarters (75%) of respondents said ongoing (indefinite) employment should be the preferred standard at CSIRO, ahead of fixed-term appointments.
Another 80% of participants said that staff employed on specified terms should have better pathways to permanent work. Four-fifths (80%) want CSIRO to improve employment processes and provide long-standing casual staff the opportunity to convert to permanent part time.
Many staff said that the conditions for employment of postdocs needed an overhaul, with many participants describing the career pathways at CSIRO as being inadequate.
CSIRO employees want to be respected, consulted and listened to and improving employee consultation and engagement is as totemic issue for staff.
A massive 92% said that CSIRO staff should have access to meaningful consultation, before decisions are made and with the capacity to influence outcomes.
This desire is recognised by recent advice from the APSC, which states that ‘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).’
“While we will seek major improvements to these arrangements in the enterprise agreement, improving consultation at CSIRO represents a major structural and cultural challenge and the Staff Association recently met with senior managers to discuss the implications of the Government’s new policy,” Ms Tonks said.
Ms Tonks said that the survey results helped inform discussion and the development of a bargaining position, recently finalised by nationally elected Staff Association representatives.
“The Staff Association bargaining position will be released for the consideration later this month and as an democratic organisation, our members will have the opportunity to endorse the proposal.”
“It’s important that CSIRO staff have an opportunity to influence the content of negotiations and Staff Association members have that voice in determining the union’s priorities for bargaining,” Ms Tonks said.
CSIRO employees who are members of the Staff Association are represented by the union during bargaining. The Staff Association team of negotiators are informed by the union’s bargaining position and directed by the views of the membership.
If you’re not a member of the union, unless you appoint your own bargaining representative, your views and opinions will not be represented in bargaining.
We’re a democratic organisation and the union’s approach to bargaining is open, transparent and participatory.
We provide our members many opportunities to direct Staff Association bargaining policy throughout the process, from start to finish. As a union member, your voice is clearly heard during negotiations with CSIRO Executive.
All CSIRO employees are invited to join the Staff Association; there’s a place for everyone here at the union. Make sure your views are represented during enterprise bargaining by becoming a member today.