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Calls for Domestic Violence Leave in All Modern Awards

27 June 2016 at 10:48 am
Wendy Williams
Unions and community groups are calling on the next government to ensure that domestic violence leave is enshrined in all modern awards.

Wendy Williams | 27 June 2016 at 10:48 am


Calls for Domestic Violence Leave in All Modern Awards
27 June 2016 at 10:48 am

Unions and community groups are calling on the next government to ensure that domestic violence leave is enshrined in all modern awards.

Woman being comforted

ACTU President Ged Kearney and CEO of McAuley Community Services for Women Jocelyn Bignold have made submissions to the Fair Work Commission asking for 10 days paid leave and two days unpaid leave to be guaranteed through the award.

Their bid has been backed by former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty who said domestic violence leave would have made a big difference to her in the year before her son Luke was murdered by his father.

Bignold told Pro Bono Australia News that domestic violence leave would help keep women in jobs.

“Women who are experiencing family violence are often using all of their resources to sort out their situation which can be quite complex, particularly if they have children,” Bignold said.

“Often they have used up their sick leave, and sometimes their long service leave and their paid annual leave, they tend to use all that first to try and manage the situation and if he is intent on bringing them to court multiple times, then they’ll need that.

“If they’ve got children they are in a double bind, because what we see is they can’t get long day care because they can’t get in for a day, they can’t get casual short term childcare because that’s four hours and if you are going to court you might need six. And what we found when we ran a children’s program in the court was 30 per cent of the kids that were coming to court were actually primary school and secondary school age. The children are scared to be at school on the days that their mother’s are in court or mothers are scared to let them go to school because they don’t know what the outcome of the court case will be.

“The financial abuse and the cost of managing these situations means that any additional leave will be gratefully received… and it just helps to keep women in jobs.

“It’s a two-fold effect, first of all it’s a very practical help for her and secondly it’s clearly telling employees that their employer is aware of these issues and ready to support them should they come forward. So that means they have got more confidence in going forward and speaking to their boss about their situation and accessing something like the leave which means they are more likely to be able to remain in work. That is a protective factor against homelessness and further incidents of violence.”

Bignold said family violence was a workplace issue.

“Violence against women is not a private matter. It does not occur in a vacuum,” Bignold said.

“Some women have reported being performance managed out of their jobs because of reasons that related to their experience of family violence and the impact this had on their productivity at work, including being absent or not being able to focus on tasks.

“Some were unsuccessful in their applications for new jobs because of a poor reference. Many ended up managing chronic illness or injury as a result of their experience of family violence.

“Consequently, it is my view that family violence is a workplace issue for the women themselves, their colleagues and their employers.”

Bignold was also keen to stress that protection for survivors of domestic violence through the provision of leave had wide-ranging benefits for employers and workplaces as well as the employees affected by domestic violence.

“We know, family violence costs business alone millions,” Bignold said.

“But they don’t actually necessarily see it and they are not necessarily counting it, so if they actually counted it and had it literally in black and white, or in red, and balanced that against what it is going to cost them to do a few extra days leave, the sums will stack up in favour to pay the leave.

“You will end up with a productive, functioning, happy employee, rather than lose them to the performance management, that is happening now.

“We have seen figures that say an instance of family violence costs around $300,000 and to keep somebody homeless can cost around  $40,000, so if somebody slips out of their job potentially they are costing us all, $340,000 a year.

“When it [domestic violence leave] becomes a mandatory requirement, I’m sure it does cause nervousness to employers big and small, and small [businesses] worry about taking more of the burden but I think they will be proven wrong.

“I really do think that for business, I want to push that this is good for you, this is a positive message for you rather than this is another burden.”

But the push for domestic violence leave has been met by resistance.

It was reported in the Financial Review that Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell said small business shouldn’t have to “pick up the tab” for domestic violence.

According to the article she was calling for both political parties to reject the push by the unions to enforce up to 10 days leave for family violence.

“At the end of the day the great dilemma is who pays,” Carnell said.

“Everyone acknowledges domestic violence is a huge community and social problem. Providing an extra five or 10 days is a cost borne by business. And 97 per cent of Australian businesses are small to medium businesses, they are the ones who pay. Is that fair? Is it reasonable to small and medium businesses to pick up the tab.”

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash also rejected the push by the ACTU to include such a clause.

The ACTU said the comments were “deeply disappointing” and showed a lack of understanding of the issues at play.

“The argument being put forward by small business ombudsman Kate Carnell and Minister for Women and Employment Michaelia Cash that domestic violence leave will make employers less likely to hire women harks back to the arguments made against equal pay, maternity leave, and indeed to the arguments made against every incremental advancement for women in the workplace,” ACTU President Ged Kearney said.

“It is profoundly disappointing when a person in a position that requires political neutrality trots out the Turnbull government’s lines, and even more so when those lines are designed to stop an initiative that would help people experiencing domestic violence keep their jobs.

“Ms Carnell seems unaware that personal leave is in many cases inadequate for people experiencing domestic violence, as employees are not able to take personal leave to attend court appearances or to relocate for safety reasons”.

Bignold said is was a knee-jerk reaction.

“That is a fairly common criticism, that employers are less likely to employ women and my counter argument is that we all know that the economic stacks up when people have diverse workplaces, that has been proven time and time again now. So for me I think is bit of a knee-jerk reaction,” she said.

“I think employers possibly feel a bit like they are picking up the tab for every social issue in actual fact, there are a few things that happen, one is most people who are experiencing violence, don’t want to talk to their employers necessarily about it, but they do want the door to be open should they need to speak to them.

“Also… anecdotally what I am hearing… is that family violence leave has not been abused. So I think there is a little bit of fear of the unknown, fear of why us, why do we have to pick up the pieces again, those sorts of things, but I think in actual reality, most employers and employees will live with it quite comfortably I think.”

According to the ACTU research conducted by the University of New South Wales, the provision of domestic violence leave leads to positive outcomes for employers and employees.

The research found one-third of respondents reported at least one domestic violence leave request in the past 12 months with the typical amount of leave taken was two to three days.

Employers reported highly positive outcomes with raised workplace moral and employees feeling safe, supported and free from fear of losing their jobs.

Kearney said the union movement was at one with a growing proportion of employers, state governments and community groups that know part of the ongoing effort to assist people affected by domestic violence must include a clause in all modern awards that provides for domestic violence leave.

“We recognise that allowing people affected by domestic violence time to ensure their own safety and the safety of their families, without having to balance the demands of work, is beneficial to both employer and employee, and beyond that is surely an expression of basic human compassion,” she said

Batty has lent her support to the ACTU submission.

“Domestic violence leave would have made a big difference, the year before Luke was murdered by his father I spent multiple days in court,” Batty said.

“Multiple days in court are stressful, tiring, I don’t even know how many days I spent in court, but at least six or eight days, without any mandated leave.”

“I was also making statements to police, so again that was time taken out of your day, making statements and following up with other matters connected to these charges.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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