Thousands of scientists and researchers at the peak government science agency are threatening to walk off the job, saying their working conditions are under attack.
Strike action at the CSIRO will open another front in the federal government's fight with much of its workforce over pay and conditions, with workers in several Australian Public Service departments either threatening or already engaging in industrial action.
The CSIRO's Staff Association will take the first steps this week towards a campaign of action aimed at forcing their bosses to the negotiating table after being warned to expect little in the way of pay rises and cuts to their working conditions.
The association says the organisation's management has not yet shown its hand on wages but that bosses want longer working hours at its workplaces throughout Australia, to axe days off around Christmas, slash redundancy provisions and slow progress up the CSIRO career ladder.
Association president Sam Popovski said on Friday that CSIRO workers were angry and frustrated at the glacial pace of negotiations on a new enterprise agreement for the organisation's 5350 workers and ready to take strike action.
The scientists and researchers' workplace agreement expired in August 2014, they have not had a pay rise since mid-2013 and are facing the loss of about 1300 jobs, more than a quarter of the present workforce.
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CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall made it clear in a letter to the association this month that the wage deal would be in line with the federal government's tough public sector bargaining guidelines with no pay rises on the table without "productivity offsets" which in other agencies have translated as cuts to conditions and longer working hours.
"Under the circumstances and in accordance with the CSIRO Minister's direction, we must continue to work within the requirements of the bargaining policy to develop the best possible pay offer, working conditions and Enterprise Agreement for our staff," Dr Marshall wrote.
In response, the staff association says it will apply to the Fair Work Commission for a Protected Action Ballot at CSIRO, the first step in the legal process for walk-outs and other industrial action.
"Negotiations for a new enterprise agreement at CSIRO have effectively stalled, with CSIRO management's support for the federal government's unworkable bargaining policy – which mandates cuts to working conditions, rights and pay – proving to be the major stumbling block," Mr Popovski said.
"CSIRO staff are genuinely frustrated and dismayed by management's decision to target workplace rights and conditions, especially following the brutal cuts to jobs and research."
The staff association wrote to Dr Marshall early in February urging the chief executive to step outside the bargaining policy in developing a new wage deal, to commit to growing the organisation after years of cuts and to commit to preserving its scientific integrity and independence.
In the letter, Mr Popovski argued that staff morale was at an all-time low and less than one-third of workers' believed in their bosses' ability to lead the organisation.