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University staff campaign for access to paid vaccination leave

The University of Sydney is lagging behind other universities in providing leave for all staff to get vaccinated.

Photograph: Paul Miller/AAP

Staff at universities across New South Wales are campaigning for access to paid vaccination leave as the state records daily COVID-19 case numbers in the 800s and the government ramps up its vaccination rollout.

So far, the University of Sydney has not responded to the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU)’s requests to provide up to two days paid authorised absence for each vaccination.

USyd is currently lagging behind five other NSW universities which have all agreed to paid leave for staff, including casuals, to get vaccinated.

Status of paid vaccination leave at NSW universities as of today. Source: NTEU NSW.

The University currently provides 10 days of COVID-19 special leave for staff including casuals who are required to self-isolate, are sick with COVID, or unwell as a result of a vaccination.

Even so, this special leave can’t be used by staff to get vaccinated, creating a barrier for many staff who cannot book an appointment outside of a time where they would lose pay.

A University spokesperson said that they were offering some flexibility with work hours and that “staff may also take personal leave if needed to attend a vaccination appointment.”

However, NTEU NSW Secretary Damien Cahill told Honi that continuing staff who have access to sick leave shouldn’t have to use it to get vaccinated, and that this excludes casuals who don’t have access to sick leave whatsoever.

“While we welcome news from the Vice-Chancellor about the 10 days of special leave, that needs to be extended to cover vaccination leave for all staff,” he said.

A spokesperson for the USyd Casuals Network said it was “an excellent step forward” that casual staff are being included in the NTEU’s campaign for paid vaccination leave.

“Paid vaccination leave is vital to ensure there are as minimal barriers as possible for staff at the University of Sydney being vaccinated, especially the 50% of staff who are casual.”

“As with all policy, the most marginalised people should be at the forefront of any considerations about public health. For universities, that means making sure policies such as paid leave work for all casual staff rather than letting us consistently fall through the gaps.”

NTEU NSW is circulating a petition for paid vaccination leave which has over 2,300 signatures at the time of writing. The petition emphasises that overcoming difficulties that face workers is a “key factor” in improving low vaccination rates.

 “Things have moved very quickly in the last week,” Dr Cahill said of the five universities now offering paid vaccination leave. “I hope that University of Sydney management goes with the tide of opinion but also shows some leadership.”

“This is something that’s going to be essential in the future, we want all students and all staff to be vaccinated. Obviously, it’s going to be essential for opening up to international students that people are vaccinated. So this is a very small step that the University could take to encourage staff to get vaccinated.”

Update: The NTEU Sydney Branch has since won access to paid vaccination leave.