While sex is biologically determined gender is socially constructed, Senior Vice President Joan Lemaire told Annual Conference. The many ways of expressing masculine or feminine behaviour create an equivalent number of sources of harassment and violence.
There are “hierarchies or pecking orders of masculinity and femininity, and gender-based violence plays a part maintaining these hierarchies”.
In speaking to and moving the Recommendation on “Promoting Equality in Education Workplaces – Addressing Gender-Based Harassment and Violence” Ms Lemaire reminded delegates the Department no longer had a policy aimed at preventing and responding to sexual or sex-based harassment. The Gender Equity Strategy had been replaced with the Boys’ and Girls’ Education Strategy and the Gender Equity Unit had been eliminated.
Federation will campaign to ensure that the Department adopts specific policies and procedures which are aimed at both preventing and responding to gender-based violence, Ms Lemaire said.
Ms Lemaire said the Department’s Code of Conduct and the Diversity Policy did not adequately address gender-based violence or discrimination. While the Code of Conduct and the Code of Conduct Procedures require that employees do not harass or discriminate on the grounds described in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, no information is provided about how to recognise these forms of discrimination and harassment.
This made it difficult to prevent and to provide an effective response. Without appropriate policies, sexual harassment and gendered violence may not be reported or may be trivialised as “just a joke”.
Ms Lemaire said Federation would develop an updated advice leaflet on responding to sexual harassment in the workplace, including harassment by students and work with the Department to ensure any changes to the Complaints Handling Procedures are appropriate for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.
The Recommendation to Annual Conference includes a request that the Department develop and implement a clear policy explicitly focused on sexual and gender-based harassment, including provision of relevant resources and support.
The union will call on the Department and BOSTES to develop professional learning opportunities and resources to support teachers in both preventing and responding to sexism and gender-based violence in the classroom in ways which are appropriate to the backgrounds of the students.
Helping teachers suffering from domestic violence
Ms Lemaire also spoke about domestic violence, saying this was a workplace issue given that two-thirds of women affected by domestic violence are in paid employment and that employment is critical in reducing the impact on victims.
The ACTU has developed a policy which includes reference to the need to provide 10 days’ paid Domestic Violence Leave and a range of other support for victims of domestic violence.
Ms Lemaire said that although many employers have a range of policies and procedures to support victims of domestic violence including specific leave provisions the NSW government had failed to implement a range of similar provisions.
The Department and TAFE require victims to use their sick leave and FACS leave for domestic violence circumstances. Only after these leave provisions are exhausted can the individual access up to five days of special leave. This means that these individuals may be left without sufficient leave available to cover their own illnesses or those of their children.
Federation is pressing for the adoption of the ACTU model provision for domestic violence leave across the public sector, with particular emphasis on:
- removing the requirement for teachers to exhaust all sick and FACS leave before being able to access domestic violence leave o at least 10 days paid leave for domestic violence purposes
- a right to request a change in working arrangements
- pursue with the Department the inclusion of a clause in the Domestic Violence Leave Determination which allows for a variation in work arrangements for teachers in schools, as exists for TAFE teachers and the NSW public sector standard
- ensure that inclusion of explicit references to domestic violence is pursued as a priority in the development of employer policy and procedures as appropriate
- develop an advice leaflet on domestic violence leave entitlements.