Image: Image: Nikolas Gannon

By Dani Cotton

On April 14, over 300 unionists at the University of Sydney voted overwhelmingly to strike on May 11 and 12 to defend our conditions to fight casualisation, to demand a real pay rise, and stand for First Nations’ rights. And one of our key demands is the right for trans workers to have fair gender affirmation leave.

Dignified Access to Gender Affirmation

This is about giving workers dignified access to gender affirmation, whether for medical or surgical affirmation, or any other social, psychological, and legal needs associated with transition as the worker deems necessary.

We know supporting trans people is associated with higher quality of life. But more than that, it’s also about addressing the exclusion in employment of trans people. Approximately 57% of trans people are currently on welfare, and around 48% are excluded from formal employment.

This is not just due to explicit discrimination of the sort Morrison’s Religious Discrimination Bill threatened to entrench. It’s also that the process of transitioning can too often knock us out of employment. A survey by the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) found that few workers had enough leave to cover their transition, which means many workers need to either take extended periods of unpaid leave or leave their job entirely.

And often, workers don’t feel supported to stay in work as they transition in the first place, unsure how management or other workers might respond.

Fighting For Six Weeks of Gender Affirmation Leave Per Year

Supporting people through transition is why at Sydney University, rank-and-file activists are fighting for six weeks of gender affirmation leave per year, to support a transgender person no matter their transition journey.

Of course, a huge number of trans people do not desire surgery, making it especially important our agreement covers legal or social forms of transition.

But for those who do go down the medical or surgical route, the recovery time for most of these surgeries, whether it’s top surgery, bottom surgery, facial feminisation, hair transplants, or otherwise can often extend well over six weeks. This is far more than the sick leave entitlements offered in a permanent job, and of course, being trans should not fall in the same category as being ‘sick’.

At Sydney Uni, hundreds of unionists voted up the claim, and our union representatives have negotiated at countless bargaining meetings over the past months. But I’m most proud of the rank-and-file campaign behind the union calling for annual gender affirmation leave, which has brought together trans and cis people, men, women and non-binary people, and workers, students, and community.

Send a Strong Message Against Morrison’s Anti-Trans Campaigning

We are calling out to our LGBTQIA+ community to join the picket lines on May 11-12.

Our strikes will be the absolute centrepiece of our fight, and is the strongest form of action we can take as a union. Please bring your rainbow and trans flags to join workers as they shut the campus down as part of industrial negotiations. Every person or organisation who can lend support, you’re more than welcome to join the pickets at Sydney Uni’s Camperdown campus on May 11-12.

This is not just about the University of Sydney but the entire tertiary education sector. Winning the demand at Sydney Uni will help set a precedent for every other workplace, as the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) starts bargaining around the country.

With trans rights, an increasing focus this election, a strong community picket line on May 11-12 will also send a strong message against Morrison’s anti-trans campaigning, and keep up the pressure for trans rights as we move beyond the election, and for this important form of leave to go far beyond the tertiary education sector.

Dani Cotton is a member of the NTEU at Sydney University, who has been involved in fighting for gender affirmation leave.

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