Staff at the Higher Degree by Research Administration Centre (HDRAC) are in the midst of a battle with University of Sydney management over the recognition of Mardi Gras celebrations as a significant cultural event. In previous years, HDRAC staff participating in the University’s parade float were entitled to an additional day off as special leave following the Mardi Gras weekend. This has facilitated their participation in Mardi Gras festivities, which extend deep into Saturday night and often include Sunday. This year, as management has revoked the right to this extra day of leave, many HDRAC staff will be participating without pay in the University of Sydney’s own Mardi Gras float.
As a result, thirty staff members have sent an open letter to the director of Human Resources (HR), stating that “we feel it is a significant retrograde step for the university to deny staff special leave. There is no wording within the Staff Leave Policy, the EBA or the HR website on special leave that precludes LGBTQI staff members requesting a day of leave for what is an extremely important cultural event. Nor is there any language preventing management from granting such a day of special leave, which helps to facilitate worker participation in the Mardi Gras.”
For oppressed minorities whose holidays are not recognised by the Christian calendar and public holidays, special leave for cultural events is an important condition that allows staff time off for Ramadan, Hanukkah and other such events. Mardi Gras, the staff argue, is a very important day for LGBTQI people, and should be recognised as such. As one worker declared, “It is gay Christmas!”
The issue of leave being revoked is particularly affronting to some staff due to the university’s purportedly pro-LGBTQI image. For example, the University is a co-sponsor of the Mardi Gras event, and yet staff who attend this event, many on behalf of the University, will go uncompensated.
In a public statement posted to the university’s Yammer network, National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) branch president Kurt Iveson said, “Staff participating in the University’s float are expected to attend several rehearsal sessions to participate in the parade and in doing so, commit hours of unpaid work to represent the university. They will be representing the university from 2pm on Saturday until very late into the evening. Staff have also been giving up their lunch breaks and personal time to create costumes for the parade. The university will showcase staff efforts by using footage of their float in the university’s promotional video. Participants of the parade have also been asked to take over the Instagram story for the university during the parade.”
Staff also took a photo in protest against the pushback, with one placard reading: “USYD: Happy for us to represent but not reward.”
The dispute comes in the context of the University submitting for the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI), where it will be promoting its own progress made in the area of LGBTQI workplace inclusion.
The open letter continues , “It is a shame for the university to be concurrently denying special leave for participants of the parade as well as promoting itself as an inclusive workplace. The LGBTQI community are one of the highest risk groups for mental health problems and suicide, and the university should be aware that exclusionary decisions such as this contribute to the issue.”
Staff and the union plan to continue their campaign until they win. Students should stand in solidarity against this attack on queer rights.