Hundreds more federal government scientists are threatened with the sack after Geoscience Australia conceded it has a $40 million hole in its budget and will be forced to cull its staff.
The organisation’s 742 permanent workers were given the “shock” news last week that job losses are inevitable as the agency struggles with an efficiency dividends and the collapse of its cash flows from other the government departments that pay for its science.
The latest blow to government science comes on top of hundreds of job losses – with more expected - at the Commonwealth’s lead research organisation the CSIRO.
Geoscience’s Chief Executive Officer Chris Pigrim painted a grim picture of his agency’s finances in a message to staff last week, saying revenue from other government agencies, who pay GA for scientific projects, will collapse by $25 million, more than half, in the next financial year.
Dr Pigrim confirmed that his agency was facing a $6 million hit from the efficiency dividend, contributing to a $40 million hole in its $180 million budget.
“We are forecasting that our section 31 income, that is the income we derive from other agencies, will… reduce substantially, as their priorities, focus and resources change,’’ he wrote.
“We anticipate the revenue from this source will drop from $60m this year to $35m next year.
“In summary, the agency is looking at a very substantial reduction in revenue; around $40m, and we know that it’s unlikely to be a one off reduction.
”As employee costs represent more than half of our expenditure it is likely that we will not be able to maintain our current staffing levels.”
“I understand that this news may have come as a shock to many of you.”
Mr Pigrim declined a request for an interview on Friday and the agency did not answer questions about how many jobs on were on the line.
“As an Agency we are looking at our current work plan and structure to rationalise and reduce costs wherever possible while continuing to deliver our program,” a spokesman said in a written statement.
A minor political storm erupted late last year after The Canberra Times revealed that CSIRO could lose up to 25 per cent of it workforce as a hiring freeze prevented temporary workers having their jobs renewed.
CSIRO Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski said on Thursday that there had been a “dramatic” fall in the headcount at the organisation, from 6477 in June last year to 6143 as at the end of January.
“That’s pretty dramatic and it’s going to continue,” Mr Popovski said.
Professionals Australia, the professional body for many of the federal government’s scientists, was scathing of the approach taken by Geoscience Australia, which signed contracts worth $1.4 million in January and February with private sector firms to hire temporary workers.
“There is a fundamental disconnect going on here,” Professionals Australia’s Executive Officer David Smith said.
“GA does need particular, specific skills and hence needs to recruit but the risk of losing more of these skills through the budget cuts are more significant.
“They need to focus on retention of existing skills.
“If they do recruit it is mad to do it through expensive recruitment firms with the existing pressures.”