Qualification(s): LLB, GradDipLegPrac
Syvannah Harper is an employment and industrial lawyer at Maurice Blackburn’s Sydney office. In addition to her work in private practice, she has worked as a union official and industrial officer and has experience in relation to a broad range of industrial and employment issues, including unfair dismissals, discrimination, adverse action complaints, workplace investigations, disciplinary proceedings and contract issues.
“I believe there is an inherent power imbalance in the working relationship and I am passionate about ensuring my clients are treated fairly and their reputations protected,” she said.
"As an employment and industrial lawyer I feel that I play a significant role in making clients' lives fairer and improving the conditions of working people. It is important to me that working individuals achieve fairness at their workplaces.”
Syvannah’s successes include running an unfair dismissal trial on behalf of a union member, the result of which was that the member was reinstated to her position and awarded full back pay (totalling approximately 33 weeks’ pay) (Madeline Wait v Tenterfield Care Centre Limited  FWC 2472).
She also worked on the Supreme Court matter, Health Services Union NSW v Health Secretary  NSWSC 1661. This case involved the interpretation of the long service leave provisions contained in the Health Employees’ Conditions of Employment (State) Award. Through this case, the Health Services Union was successful in securing a declaration that New South Wales Health had been incorrectly ignoring employees’ previous casual service for the purpose of calculating their long service leave entitlements. This case has had wide application in the New South Wales health system.
She has been able to negotiate a settlement of $90,000 to reimburse underpaid cleaners. This matter involved vulnerable non-English speaking employees employed on flat rates and contracted to clean various age care facilities. The settlement, not only secured a large payment to workers but also allowed the union to proceed with a media campaign disclosing the underpayment and the settlement amounts.
Syvannah successfully assisted senior solicitors and counsel in a Federal Circuit Court matter involving an employee’s position being made redundant after she made several workplace complaints. The applicant was successful in receiving a declaration from the court that her employer had acted unlawfully by terminating her employment and refusing to redeploy her to a position for which she had the necessary skills.
Syvannah often achieves discreet out-of-court settlements, including a recent case involving an employee who contracted post-viral fatigue and exercised various workplace rights including taking sick leave. The settlement amount was in the vicinity of $170,000, equating to more than a year’s wage.
In addition to her work with unions and Maurice Blackburn, Syvannah is very active in the community. Syvannah volunteers at the Redfern Legal Centre providing free employment advice to vulnerable workers. Syvannah is passionate about advancing the social, economic and political position of women and members of the LGBTIQ community and is heavily involved in Maurice Blackburn’s Women’s Network and its LGBTIQ network, PRIDE.