Australian domestic violence campaigner and 2015 Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, has backed calls by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for compulsory domestic violence leave.
The push comes as a growing number of businesses have voluntarily begun offering staff leave for family violence, including telecommunications giant Telstra, which began offering staff up to 10 days leave per year in January.
The National Australia Bank, Virgin Australia, Australian Army, the National Rugby League and retailer Suzanne Grae, along with a number of government bodies, trade unions, not-for-profit groups, local councils and universities, also offer staff domestic violence leave.
An application from the ACTU, which is before the Fair Work Commission as part of a review of modern awards, would see four million permanent staff covered by an award gain access to up to 10 days paid domestic violence leave per year.
In addition, casual staff would receive up to 10 days per year of unpaid leave.
The ACTU claims the leave would give employees an opportunity to attend court appearances, seek legal advice and make relocation arrangements.
The campaign for domestic violence leave is one of the key focuses of the peak union body’s annual congress, which is running until May 28 at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne’s Docklands.
In a statement, ACTU president Ged Kearney said domestic violence is a whole of society issue and that includes the workplace and employers.
“Having a job and financial stability is critical for women to escape a violent and abusive relationship,” Kearney said.
“If the government is serious about tackling domestic violence, it should support the ACTU claim to give more than four million award-reliant workers access to domestic violence leave.”
The move is backed by Domestic Violence Victoria, with chief executive officer Fiona McCormack telling SmartCompany the leave could make a big difference in the lives of women and children suffering from family violence.
“We’d absolutely support these standards being included in the national employment standards as a minimum,” McCormack says.
“We see so many women lose their jobs as a result of domestic violence. That means they’re more susceptible to becoming homeless because they don’t have an income that can pay the rent or the mortgage, and that in turn has long term implications for children.”
“That can come about because of time off work as a result of things like legal and medical appointments.”
“If we can keep women in jobs, it means much better outcomes for women and children.”
According to McCormack, workplaces also often play an important role in the “safety plan” of women who are suffering domestic violence.
“Work is a place where women often feel safe, and this would help workplaces play a much greater role,” she says.
According to Domestic Violence Victoria, more than one in three Australian women (34%) who have had an intimate partner have experienced violence from a partner or ex-partner. KPMG estimates that violence against women and children cost the Australian economy $14.7 billion in 2013 alone.