Unions push for right to domestic violence leave

Anna Uren
Relieving Women's Coordinator

Job security is critical for endangered women.

The ACTU has lodged a claim in the Fair Work Commission to have domestic violence leave included in all modern awards.

The claim was made as the Fair Work Commission conducts its four-yearly review of awards.

If successful, the entitlement would apply to all those employed under the Fair Work Act, including teachers in TAFE.

While the entitlement would not automatically apply to teachers in schools, it would provide impetus for a potential claim made under the Teaching Services Act.

The ACTU claim is to provide 10 days paid leave for permanent employees and 10 days unpaid leave for casual employees for matters related to family and domestic violence, such as attending court appearances or making re-location arrangements. In addition, the claim includes a right to request flexible work arrangements, including when, how or where work is undertaken.

Another important aspect of the claim is that adequate training and support must be provided for any person who is likely to have an employee disclose family violence to them in the course of accessing the entitlements. People making the difficult decision to tell someone they are experiencing domestic violence must be confident that their employer will be able to handle the matter appropriately and provide the necessary support.

In 2011, the Australian Law Reform Commission recommended that the Australian Government should support the inclusion of family violence clauses in enterprise agreements. It argued for a minimum standard including paid leave, assurance of confidentiality and more.

The capacity of those experiencing domestic and family violence to attend work is often disrupted. Without access to an authorised form of leave, this has left many victims at risk of losing their job. The resulting financial insecurity creates a substantial barrier to their safety. In launching the claim, ACTU President Ged Kearney said: “Having a job is critical if women are to leave a violent relationship …. Evidence shows having an income gives women choice, stops them becoming trapped and isolated in violent and abusive relationships, and enables them to care for their children and provide them with a safe home environment.”

More than 1.6 million employees already have access to paid domestic violence leave in union negotiated workplace agreements. However, the standard of the entitlement is inconsistent. Extending this to all modern awards would create a safety net for millions of Australian workers.