Pressure on Executive to present an increased pay offer is building, with union members at CSIRO set to mark the nominal expiry of the current enterprise agreement by moving a step closer to protected action.
There is widespread frustration among CSIRO staff with the position advanced by Executive bargaining representatives, who maintain they are restricted from making any offer in addition to the three-year, 11.2 per cent proposal authorised by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC).
While negotiations continue – with the latest meeting featuring constructive talks on superannuation, parental leave and workplace resolution procedures – discussions around pay are approaching impasse; a situation not helped by Executive’s total neglect of more than fifteen hundred CSIRO staff who participated in a recent union pay poll.
The lack of response to the poll – where more than 80 per cent of respondents called for an improved pay offer – has led to questions whether senior leaders at CSIRO are exploring all available options to improve the pay proposal beyond the limits of APSC policy.
Executive bargaining representatives recently clarified how the Australian Public Sector Commission’s (APSC) bargaining policy applies to CSIRO.
‘CSIRO is a Corporate Commonwealth Entity and does not fall into any of the categories of Commonwealth organisations (such as Government Business Enterprises) given greater leeway to bargain in paragraph 87 (of the Public Sector Workplace Relations Policy).’
The Staff Association bargaining update published on 1 November 2023 has been changed to reflect this clarification.
However, APSC rules do allow for the consideration of policy exemptions, albeit in ‘exceptional circumstances.’
Paragraph 93 states ‘exemptions to the Non-APS Policy will only be considered in exceptional circumstances. An application for exemption must be assessed by the APSC and is subject to endorsement from the portfolio Minister and approval from the Minister for the Public Service.’
The exemption application process was confirmed by the APSC in the Non-APS Bargaining Government Parameters. Changes classified as Category Two – including any salary increase in excess of the three-year, 11.2 per cent pay offer – will ‘require an exemption… (and) will be considered in exceptional circumstances.’
Recent developments to allow back-pay for non-APS agencies show that APSC policies can change and are not carved in stone.
The Non-APS Bargaining Government Parameters go on to advise that ‘agencies should consult with the APSC early if they are considering an exemption request.’
CSIRO’s circumstances are special and unique. Pay outcomes have fallen far behind comparative research industry salaries; a situation only exacerbated by ten years of federal public sector wage suppression and historically high inflation, making it all too difficult to attract and retain talented staff.
Senior CSIRO leaders – including new Chief Executive Professor Doug Hilton – need to stand up for employees and immediately commence the process of applying for an APSC policy exemption to make an improved pay offer.
This means initiating formal discussions with the APSC, as well as talking to the offices of Science Minister Ed Husic and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher.
As a result, future campaigning from Staff Association members – including moving closer to protected action – will focus on increasing the pressure on Executive to apply for an exemption to increase the CSIRO pay offer.
Frustration at the approach of Executive on the pay issue has been growing, fueled in no small part by a steadfast refusal to acknowledge the participation of more than fifteen hundred CSIRO employees in a Staff Association poll on the first pay offer.
Executive bargaining representatives are set to face the music, sort of, with an all-staff webinar covering the progress of enterprise agreement negotiations scheduled for Tuesday 14 November, two days before the nominal expiry date of the current enterprise agreement.
Criticisms have surfaced of the stage-managed webinar format (pre-submitted questions only) and the brief forty-five minute time allocation, with some CSIRO staff wondering whether a longer, Town Hall styled event would allow for the expression of views more diverse than those sanctioned by Executive.
Following the pay poll results, Staff Association organisers and delegates conducted extensive consultation of union members on the next steps in the campaign, involving hundreds of one-to-one conversations by phone and text.
The overwhelming majority of members contacted indicated their support for increased campaigning in support of an improved pay offer, including moving closer to protected action.
Australian workplace laws require a successful ballot of a majority of union members before legally protected industrial action can be approved.
The recent APSC announcement making conditional back pay available to non-APS agencies until midway through March 2024 has extended the bargaining timetable into the new year.
However, with the summer hiatus of December and January rapidly approaching, the time required to complete an all-member vote means the protected action ballot needs to occur as soon as possible.
To that end, following an application made by union bargaining representatives, the Fair Work Commission has issued orders for a protected action ballot of CSIRO Staff Association members to be completed by 30 November 2023, with voting to commence imminently, once voting rolls are finalised and the independent agent starts the process.
Returning to negotiations, constructive discussions continue, with the most recent meeting focused on superannuation, parental leave and the workplace issues resolution procedure.
Executive bargaining representatives provided more information (without submitting a draft clause) on proposed changes to superannuation, specifically the introduction of an equal rate of contribution regardless of fund and moving to calculations based on Ordinary Times Earnings rather than Fortnightly Contributions Salary; both long-standing campaign priorities for Staff Association members over successive enterprise bargaining campaigns.
However, Executive representatives have also made clear that an important entitlement, superannuation on unpaid parental leave, will not be extended to those who elect to move from the public sector fund, which would leave those that choose their own fund will be left significantly worse off if they take parental leave.
Discussions around agreement content referencing the Workplace Issues Resolution Procedures (WIRP) have continued, with Executive changing position again; this time in a positive direction, proposing the inclusion of policy principles as modest first step.
Executive bargaining representatives requested a brief pause in negotiations, with the next meeting to be scheduled sometime in the next two weeks.