People & Human Resources

Peter Strong: Why we need government-funded domestic violence leave

Peter Strong /

Domestic and family violence leave should be funded by government or the current leave provisions should be used.

Domestic violence is a private issue in many ways and now the management of it has become a public issue through demands for domestic violence leave (DVL) provisions for employees.

Read more: Labor pledges domestic violence leave rights for all workers following the lead of Australian businesses

Domestic violence is a problem that must be addressed and eradicated. Any structured response needs to be from our broad society, not from individual employers who may also be victims.

The solution is not to have DVL in the workplace relations system – except where a company volunteers to do so as many big businesses and government agencies are doing through their enterprise agreements.

Instead, we should have a nationally provided system of DVL in the same way we have for paid parental leave (PPL). This reflects the fact that we face a societal issue, not a problem that is created by employers.

This proposal also gives the victims the option of maintaining privacy for a situation that many do not wish to share with those in the workplace, no matter how well meaning and supportive those people are and can be. This includes employers and work colleagues, but also includes friends and relatives. Domestic violence is difficult and many want privacy, not further complication.

We are proposing that the DVL system be managed by the experts in the field; the Domestic Violence Safer Pathway is the obvious choice for expertise and professionalism. There are many other agencies that provide expert support. This takes the onus away from individual employers who will not have the expertise to deal with this and indeed may be victims themselves. This also gives the victim potential access to leave without having to disclose to the employer the reason.

Individual employers have been shown to be already very supportive and along with co-workers, will do whatever is possible to assist. This includes providing time off, often paid for by the employer, and other employees contributing by working extra hard as a result, doing so without rancour or complaint. Why institutionalise good deeds? There seems to be very few or no cases of the opposite occurring.

There is no doubt that a scheme funded by employers fails any test of fairness when the needs of the self-employed are considered. An employer, a woman or a man, could be a victim of domestic or family violence, yet this is not acknowledged. Worryingly, these victims, who are employers, may be forced to find extra funds and extra time to manage the lives of others who are also victims.

There could also be an extra demand placed on employers in areas where there is a higher incidence of domestic violence. This could fall on some employers more unfairly than it does on others, which reflects the very issues around domestic violence.

There is also a school of thought that a more productive workplace is one where the employer cares for employees. That is obvious, but the problem becomes when that statement is extended to situations such as PPL and DVL. Asking a small business person to find extra cash or extra time to manage a government-imposed process or expense does not create productivity. It does the opposite as the employer and her or his family can become stressed. The employing person is asked to spend less time on running their business, less time with their own families and less money on their own necessities because some academics say so (these academics normally only study big businesses and often dance to the beat of big unions). Common sense should always apply ahead of false academic thesis.

We should not create greater complexity and more victims from domestic violence. That only makes the problem worse. This approach has the potential to embed the behaviour as something to be dealt with, not something needing to be stopped.

The best solution is to fund this through government and have it managed by the welfare sector. Then there is a greater chance of giving victims privacy and professional support, and it will help keep their job, and the jobs of others, more secure.

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Peter Strong

Peter Strong is chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia.

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