Employer’s rethink on domestic violence

Taking part in a charity sleepout helped persuade one CEO that domestic violence ought to be considered a workplace issue.

The head of Australia’s largest private aged care provider was against putting a domestic violence clause in the company’s enterprise agreement until he took part in this winter’s Vinnies CEO Sleepout.

Domain Principal Group CEO Gary Barnier joined other business and community leaders including NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick in ‘sleeping rough’ for the annual charity event.

Equipped with a sleeping bag and a sheet of cardboard to keep out the wind and rain, they spent a night outdoors to raise sponsorship money for St Vincent de Paul while gaining an insight into what homeless people go through every night.

The sleepout happened to coincide with enterprise agreement negotiations between the NSWNMA and Domain Principal. Elizabeth Broderick spoke to the CEOs about domestic violence and this prompted a direct conversation between Gary Barnier and Elizabeth Broderick on this issue. Brett was on the spot to argue for the inclusion of a domestic violence clause in the EBA.

Mr Barnier said his conversations with Commissioner Broderick and Brett persuaded him to move from a position of not wishing to include domestic violence in the EA to agreeing to deal with it as a workplace safety matter.

“My initial view was that it was not appropriate for the enterprise agreement to provide for a set amount of domestic violence leave because that seemed in some way to be making domestic violence almost ‘acceptable’ and institutionalised,” Mr Barnier told The Lamp.

“However Elizabeth emphasised how debilitating and destructive domestic violence can be to the person who is a victim.

“She asked me to think about it as a staff safety issue, with domestic violence having just as big an impact on the workplace as any other safety issue.

“My conversations with Brett and Elizabeth at the sleepout were really powerful in helping me to think about the importance of domestic violence as a staff safety issue and how we might support any of our staff who are victims.

“Brett and I agreed we would put a domestic violence provision in the safety clause of the NSW agreement. Our company will look to extend it nationally using the NSW agreement as a model.

“We want staff to feel confident they can come and talk to us about domestic violence and we will organise counselling and support for them including time off where appropriate.

“We want our staff to know that domestic violence is not acceptable and we will look after them and support them if they are a victim. We will keep engaging with our staff and unions about the best strategy and education to deal with the issue.”

The provision says Domain Principal is committed to the personal safety of all employees and recognises domestic violence as a matter of personal safety.

“Where an employee faces domestic violence the employer is committed to providing support where practical through flexible working arrangements and support through the company employee assistance programme,” it says.

Brett said Elizabeth Broderick made the point that there was a strong link between domestic violence and homelessness.

“One of the highlights of the sleepout was to hear Elizabeth talk about the benefits of domestic violence clauses in workplace agreements, helping women in particular, who are afraid of being homeless and jobless if they move out of a dangerous home situation, which in turn impacts on their work.

“They need help and support from their employer to be able to get through such terrible times and be safe at work – to get back on their feet again while maintaining their employment.

“The Association is a supporter of the Safe at Home, Safe at Work project to have domestic violence taken seriously as a workplace issue, which would go some way towards alleviating the scale of homelessness.”

Brett Holmes wishes to thank all those who sponsored him at the sleepout. He topped his $7000 donation target by raising $11,105.


Top picture, from left to right: Gary Barnier, Ian Thorley, Simon Barnier and Elizabeth Broderick at the Vinnies CEO Sleepout.