24Nov2017

Australian Space Tracking Station Goes Offline Over Pay Issues

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The station at Tidbinbilla is one of three globally that monitors space communications. (Supplied: Glen Nagle)

 Staff at the NASA deep space tracking station in Australia refused to commence space communications last Wednesday disputing whether the US-funded team should conform to an Australian Government pay agreement.

The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla in the ACT, employs 70 people in engineering, operational, and support roles. The station is one of three around the world that maintains constant contact with interplanetary missions linked to the NASA Deep Space Network.

However, workers at one of Tidbinbilla’s sister stations in California will have to pull overtime, after the Australia-based team downed tools at 2:20pm AEDT instead of linking up to outer space. The strike stems from a push by the CSIRO, which administers the station, to sign staff up to a Commonwealth enterprise bargaining agreement.

Mick Koppie from the Electrical Trades Union said it was not a decision staff had taken lightly. “A handover won’t occur this morning from the US to the Australian station, so what will happen is the guys in the US station will have to stay back,” he said.

“They’re not after huge wage increases or anything, but the agreement, the proposal from CSIRO, is to decimate their existing EBA, and they’re just not prepared to put up with it.” Unions expected the hour-long industrial action to have an impact on staff in California, but not to sever ties with satellites.

US funding, Australian management spark concerns

The dispute is centred over whether staff at the communications complex, which is funded by the US Government through NASA, should be signed up to an Australian Government pay agreement.

“It’s funded completely by NASA, CSIRO is one of a number of managing agencies that has looked after Tidbinbilla station over the years,” Mr Koppie said.

“Despite the fact that not one cent of funding for the Tidbinbilla deep space complex comes from the Commonwealth Government, workers have been told … they need to be covered by the restrictive wages policy.”

A spokesman for the CSIRO said the move would not disrupt the station’s work.

“CSIRO is continuing to discuss the new enterprise agreement for the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex with staff and is committed to negotiate a mutually agreed outcome,” he said.

“The action taken by the staff will not compromise the day-to-day operation of the station.” The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla was established in the 1960s, and was involved in the Apollo missions.

A nearby station at Honeysuckle Creek was the point of contact for the first moon landing. Staff at the NASA deep space tracking station in Australia will refuse to commence communications with outer space, as part of a fight over a new pay agreement. Source: ABC News

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