Australia’s oldest bank is getting with the times. Indigenous and transgender staff to benefit from Westpac’s new enterprise agreement.
Good news coming out of one of Australia’s big four banks is rare these days. After what has been a tumultuous year with the Royal Banking Commission; it’s refreshing to be able to report what they’re getting right for a change.
And, from the bank’s perspective, the successful negotiation of an EBA that’s receiving positive press is no doubt welcome. It’s coming in the same month as it gave the commission 22 summaries of misconduct and its chair delivered an unqualified apology to shareholders.
Details of a new Enterprise Agreement (EA) between Westpac and the Finance Sector Union (FSU) show some very progressive policies laid out for the bank’s employees, particularly its transgender and Indigenous staff.
The new agreement, which is yet to be lodged with the Fair Work Commission, has the support of Westpac executives and 90 per cent of staff who voted in the FSU’s ballot. The current agreement is due to expire on the 31 December. The new agreement is likely to benefit around 30,000 employees.
Gender transition leave
There are plenty of reports highlighting the barriers transgender employees face in the workplace, and with a rise in corporate consciousness around LGBTIQ rights, it’s vital that employers take the time to put their best foot forward in supporting this portion of the workforce.
As part of its new EBA, Westpac employees undergoing a sex or gender change will be able to access four weeks of paid transition leave and up to a year of unpaid leave in an effort to support employees during a sensitive time in their lives.
The leave can either be taken in one go or in a period of blocks, and staff are also offered counselling and support services, says Sam Turner, the bank’s head of inclusion and diversity.
FSU assistant secretary Nathan Rees said to the Sydney Morning Herald, that, as far as he was aware, Westpac were the first bank to introduce transgender leave, describing it as a “very positive step”.
While Westpac may be the first Australian bank to implement a policy like this, they wouldn’t be the first organisation. Victoria’s Deakin University recently announced that their staff would be able to access ten days of paid leave to undergo a gender transition.
And in 2016, the International Convention Centre included a provision in their EA that states employees can make an application to their employer to use up to five days of accrued paid annual leave (or take five days of unpaid leave) to either transition their gender identity or undergo gender reassignment.
Sally Goldner, acting treasurer and former executive director at Transgender Victoria, previously told HRM that “more [transgender] people are feeling safe to disclose being themselves, including in their workplace… if trans people can just be themselves, then they can be a productive employee and everyone wins.”
While policies like this are just the right thing to do, they can also be used as effective tools to retain and engage your staff members, says Kathryn Dent director at People+Culture Strategies, a workplace relations legal firm and management consulting business.
Dent, who is also the NSW convenor for AHRI’s Employee Relations/Industrial Relations Network, says she is seeing an increasing level of interest by employers in workplace transgender policies.
“My clients are looking for innovative ways to attract and retain a talented and engaged workforce, not only by way of a provision of benefits – such as gender transition leave – but also in the employer’s values and recognition of societal values and changes at the heart of which is diversity and inclusion,” she says.
“Attraction and retention of a talented and engaged workforce impacts the bottom line. There’s merit in what Westpac has done particularly given its large workforce and reputation within the community.”
‘Sorry Business’ leave
The bank are also keeping their first nation employees in mind. Three days of ‘Sorry Business’ bereavement leave will be given to Indigenous staff following death of a family member or another personal tragedy.
If an Indigenous or Torres Strait Islander employee loses a family member, they may become involved in what’s known as ‘Sorry Business’ – an important cultural tradition that involves community ceremonies and a variety of cultural events. Such ceremonies could also take place if a family member falls ill or is imprisoned; or to mourn the loss of a cultural connection to land – such as if a native title application was lost. (For a fact sheet on Sorry Business, click here).
Aunty Margaret Parker from the Punjima people in north-west WA explains in this Creative Spirits article. “The whole community gets together and shares that sorrow. We have to cry in sorrow… that’s how we break that [grief], by sharing together as a community. This is an important aspect of our culture. And this is how we are brought up”.
Yolnu elder Djambawa Marawili from Arnhem Land adds: “Ceremonies and mourning periods last days, weeks and even months, depending upon the beliefs of the language group and the social status of the deceased person.”
Going the extra mile
While the ‘Sorry Business’ and transition leave might be garnering the most attention, there’s more to the new agreement that will benefit the whole workforce.
Domestic and family violence leave will be doubled, with employees now able to access 20 days of paid domestic violence support leave. Paid parental leave for support carers and long-term foster carers will also increase from two weeks to three.
The EBA also contains the following provisions for pay increases:
- A 3.25 per cent fixed pay increase for staff earning up to $82,500
- A minimum 2.25 per cent increase for staff earning between $82,501 and $106,500
- A 2 per cent annual pool of funds to be spent of fixed pay increases for staff earning between $106,501 and $160,000 (to be distributed based on remuneration review).
A statement from the FSU website says: “At a time when there is increased scrutiny on workplace culture, conduct and pay structures through the Royal commission hearings we have a unique opportunity to lead the way on changes required to regain the trust and confidence of customers and our community.”
Dent believes that when it comes time for the other big banks to renegotiate their enterprise agreements, there is likely to be an expectation from staff, unions and the banks’ customers that these benefits will be offered. Then it will become more of a norm rather than an exception, she says.
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