One in three women experience family and domestic violence. ABS fi gures show that two thirds of the 400,000 plus people (mostly women) who experience domestic violence each year are workers.
Family and domestic violence is the greatest preventable contributor to death, disability and illness among women aged 15-44 years, greater than cancer or heart disease, yet Australian workers have limited access to family violence leave. Domestic and family violence is the principal cause of homelessness for women and their children and the estimated cost of family and domestic violence to the economy is $12.6 billion per year.
In July 2017 the Fair Work Commission (FWC) decided to create an entitlement to unpaid family and domestic violence leave in awards, which provide minimum wages and conditions for employees (including nurses) across Australia.
The decision came as a result of a union campaign, led by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), for a paid entitlement. Domestic violence leave has only relatively recently become a condition of employment for some employees, with unions pushing for and obtaining the entitlement in particular workplaces through enterprise agreements, and some companies introducing it via policy. The entitlement has however been patchy, hence the union claim to make it a community standard.
The ACTU claim was for 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave to be included in all awards and to apply to permanent and casual employees. The tribunal rejected the claim for paid leave however formed a provisional view that awards should include an unpaid entitlement.
The decision importantly recognised the pervasiveness of family and domestic violence and the devastating effects it has on those experiencing it. It accepted the ACTU’s argument that family violence is a social and workplace issue with widespread impacts, that it disrupts workforce participation, that it disproportionately affects women and that it requires a workplace response. It found that lack of family and domestic violence leave leads to financial hardship, job insecurity and ultimately safety risks for families and people affected. The Commission also applauded the ACTU for being an agent of ‘social utility’.
The FWC found that workplace rights must keep pace with community expectations and that domestic and family violence leave should therefore be part of the safety net of minimum conditions for employees across the country.
A disappointing aspect of the decision was the failure to provide for paid rather than unpaid leave. Employer groups had opposed the union claim, and the decision was not unanimous with one tribunal member rejecting the claim.
At the time of writing, the Commission is yet to hand down a further decision on the details of the entitlement including the amount of leave that will be available and the circumstances in which the entitlement will arise. For example leave may be required to attend court appointments, meet with lawyers, arrange alternative housing or make care arrangements for a dependant.
Since the decision, the union movement has also commenced a campaign to obtain paid leave directly through the legislated National Employment Standards, which currently provide for other minimum entitlements such as annual leave, personal leave and redundancy.
Paid leave is necessary because of the economic costs imposed on those who experience family and domestic violence. Without paid leave, women are forced to choose between the financial security of their paid employment and their ability to undertake the activities associated with making safe arrangements for themselves and their children. For working people who are living with violence, paid domestic violence leave is important at several stages. It is necessary while they are living with violence (before they leave), at the time they make the decision to leave and after a person leaves a violent relationship. In fact the ability to take time off work can be a major reason why a person makes the decision to leave.
The federal ALP and Greens have both recently announced that they support legislating 10 days of paid leave and the Greens will soon introduce a Bill into Parliament implementing this. At the time of writing, the Coalition government has made no commitment to supporting paid leave.
Further detail on the union campaign to obtain paid family and domestic violence leave can be found here: www.facebook.com/AustralianUnions/videos/1705504652881484/
Federal Industrial Officer