Helping domestic violence victims

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Domestic violence puts many women in a state of “raw fear” and employers need to do more to make the workplace a refuge, says the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

More than one million Australian workers now have access to some form of paid leave to deal with effects of domestic violence, thanks to union negotiations, the ACTU says.

The ACTU Congress in May 2012 decided unions should play a role in helping victims keep their jobs and escape family violence.

Congress said domestic violence provisions in industrial agreements should include paid leave as well as flexible work arrangements for affected employees.

Industrial agreements should also help employees to access domestic violence support services, ensure confidentiality of employee details and prevent discrimination against affected employees.

“Unions have a critical role in helping women keep their jobs and economic independence by being able to access paid leave.” —Ged Kearney

“Unions have a critical role in helping women keep their jobs and economic independence by being able to access paid leave.” — Ged Kearney

“Unions have a critical role in helping women keep their jobs and economic independence by being able to access paid leave to help them escape domestic violence,” said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

She said paid leave would help affected workers attend court, see a counselor and attend appointments with schools, banks and other relevant institutions.

The previous federal Labor government changed the Fair Work Act to give employees who experience family violence or who are caring for a household member who is experiencing family violence, the right to request flexible work arrangements.

Flexible work arrangements include:

  • changing hours of work (e.g. working fewer hours or changing start or finish times)
  • changing patterns of work (e.g. working ‘split shifts’ or job sharing).

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, hailed the amendments to the Fair Work Act as ‘a very significant achievement.’

“Those people who are living through the personal hell that is domestic and family violence – the vast majority of whom are women – now have additional support when it comes to ensuring security in employment,” Commissioner Broderick said.

She said domestic violence was “an enormous problem in this country and happening all around us – to women of all backgrounds and income levels.”

“Domestic and family violence means that many women enter their own homes each day in a state of raw fear.

“Added to this is the intense pressure and stress of trying to navigate violent behaviour while very often also trying to keep children, other family members and pets safe.”

Commissioner Broderick said that, contrary to popular expectation, even the workplace did not provide a haven from abuse.

“Of the respondents to the 2011 National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey who reported experiencing violence, 19% said that the violence had continued in the workplace, including through abusive phone calls and emails and the perpetrator presenting at the workplace of the victim.”

The same research found that only 48% of respondents who had experienced domestic violence disclosed it to a manager or supervisor.

“I’d like people to stop and think, ‘what can I do?’ – as friends, colleagues, employers or executives in large businesses – to support women living with violence, including making work a supportive and safe haven.”