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UPDATED: CSIRO job cuts “baffling”, says union boss

CSIRO Staff Association president Dr Michael Borgas asks management to rethink its position.

CSIRO Staff Association president Dr Michael Borgas described the scientific agency’s decision to cut jobs within its wireless and network technology program as “baffling” and has urged management to rethink its position.

In a post on the union’s website yesterday afternoon, Dr Borgas said CSIRO’s decision to cut several key research positions in its wireless labs was an “acutely short-sighted decision by CSIRO’s ICT management.”

The CSIRO today responded, indicating that it was "relatively early on in the process" and it "had identified three people – one scientist and two technical – who are surplus to the ICT centre’s requirements, but not necessarily to CSIRO."

The agency's wireless and network technology program employs about 60 full-time staff in Sydney and at other critical locations, such as remote Western Australia where the CSIRO is building the world’s fastest radio telescope under the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) project.

“The development of WiFi has delivered both fame and fortune to CSIRO and the Australian government,” Borgas said in the post. “It was only in April that another three US companies settled another patent agreement with the CSIRO worth $220 million.

“So to hear eight months later that CSIRO plans to sack researchers working on the next generation of wireless innovation is almost incomprehensible.”

A CSIRO spokesperson said "investment in different areas of research is governed by an internal science investment prioritisation process."

"The major projects, including the one the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder radio telescope, are appropriately staffed and research projects will be maintained," the spokesperson said.

In yesterday's post, Borgas quoted an email CSIRO’s ICT management divisions sent to the union, which stated that “planned reductions would not eliminate any scientific capability from within the ICT centre.”

He said claims by management that science research would remain unaffected were hard to swallow because less than 12 months ago, a “restructure in ICT resulted in the loss of five research positions.

“Management’s new plan to axe another three research positions from the program represents a stuff cut of five per cent; it is reasonable to predict that the loss of these additional research positions will result in some loss of capability,” he said in the post.

He added that it “was not too late to revisit the decision” and “these research positions are worth saving.”

In the 1990s, a CSIRO team of scientists invented and patented wireless LAN technology. The team's discovery was acknowledged with a European Inventor Award in mid-2012.

The CSIRO has reaped almost $500 million in WiFi patent royalties over the past decade, including $220 million this year.

Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter: @ByronConnolly

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