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USyd concedes one-off leave for gender affirmation but the campaign continues

Management is yet to accept the union’s calls for this allowance to be offered annually.

Photo: Aman Kapoor

Gender diverse and transgender staff at the University of Sydney have won 30 days of paid gender affirmation/transition leave following pressure from the the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) in ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations.

The leave allowance, which has been one of the NTEU’s core demands, will be available as a one-off allowance for full and part-time staff to use at their discretion throughout their employment at the university.

Calls for the NTEU to adopt the demand for gender affirmation leave were largely driven by the Queer Unionists in Tertiary Education (QUTE) division of the union.

Offering additional leave to trans and gender diverse staff will allow them to dedicate time to the process of gender affirmation: to undergo and recover from surgery, attend medical appointments, and overcome administrative hurdles such as changing names and other indicators of gender in university and government documents.

However, management is yet to accept the union’s calls for this allowance to be offered annually.

NTEU Casuals Representative Dani Cotton told Honi “We welcome management’s concession on the important issue of gender affirmation leave. Over 200 people are calling for USyd to offer 30 days per year affirmation, rather than a ‘one-off bank’, pointing to the fact transition is an ongoing process. Management needs to clarify why they are not prepared to offer the leave on an annual basis.”

A yearly allowance of six weeks leave was earlier described to Honi as being “the best approximation” of what was required by university staff, according to internal research conducted by the NTEU.

For staff who choose to undergo surgery as part of their gender affirmation, management’s current offer is likely still to be insufficient.

Similarly, casual staff are not included in management’s concession which unfortunately limits this significant win to only a portion of the university’s workforce.

One of the reasons gender affirmation leave was a demand of the NTEU in ongoing enterprise bargaining is that staff currently have to use other leave allowances or even take time off work to pursue gender affirmation.

The University conceding 30 days of gender affirmation leave will become the most extensive allowance of this leave in the tertiary education sector.

Campaigning by the NTEU nationally has already led to gender affirmation leave being offered at universities such as UNSW and the University of Tasmania, although these institutions only offer five and ten days of paid leave respectively.

Similar requests for gender affirmation leave are ongoing at other universities nationwide, with the NTEU demanding 20 days of leave as part of ongoing negotiation at UTS.

The NTEU’s win comes as a consequence of significant community pressure: The union has held public working groups, with students, staff and union members co-operating to spread awareness into the community.

A petition launched online demanding management provide paid gender affirmation leave received 217 signatures at the time of writing. 

Queer activist group Pride in Protest have platformed the concerns of USyd staff, with NTEU member Dani Cotton speaking on the importance of the leave in a July podcast and a Zoom forum held in September.

Six weeks of gender affirmation leave will markedly improve the experience of trans and gender diverse staff working for the university. However, with the union’s original demand for a yearly allowance alongside other requests in the NTEU’s log of claims still unmet, the campaign continues.