Original Article: Kathryn May, iPolitics | Jan. 19, 2018
Canada’s largest federal union wants 10 days of paid leave for public servants who are victims of domestic abuse to give them time to get their lives back together.
Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said the 10-day leave proposal will be one of the union’s top priorities in the next round of collective bargaining with Treasury Board, which could begin within months. She said employees escaping family violence shouldn’t be forced to lose pay and worry about job security.
“This is a priority for me,” said Benson, who is stepping down as PSAC president when her term expires in the spring. “We have lost members to domestic violence. We know one in three women experience domestic violence and come into the workplace.”
PSAC is taking the first step with a letter of understanding drafted with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to study the issue and find better ways to support workers facing domestic violence.
CFIA has been particularly sensitive to the issue since an employee was found dead in her Ottawa home in what is considered one of Canada’s most horrific cases of domestic abuse.
Eight years ago, 33-year-old Donna Jones was found dead on a makeshift mattress in her basement. She’d been badly beaten and suffered severe burns and broken bones; she also had several dozen air gun pellets lodged in her skin. Her husband Mark Hutt was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
The young bureaucrat had worked first for Canada Revenue Agency and then at CFIA in the agency’s human resources branch.
Testimony during Hutt’s trial showed friends and colleagues were convinced Jones was being abused and took steps to intervene. Shortly before she died, some CFIA colleagues called the police to make a third-party report of suspected abuse. They had plans to confront and help her when she returned to work.
CFIA employees will be voting on the memorandum of understanding, which is part of a tentative four-year deal. The letter, which acknowledges that domestic violence is a workplace issue, will not form part of the collective agreement. Voting on the tentative agreement — which includes a 5.5 per cent raise — begins Jan. 22.
Within 90 days of signing the contract, the parties agreed to set up a joint committee that will examine workplace practices and come up with a plan to support victims, possibly including an advocate program.
Benson has argued these steps aren’t enough to give a victim time to see doctors or lawyers, or to find new housing or child care. Many victims may already have missed work and couldn’t afford to miss out on pay to move out or find the support they need.
The committee is expected to lay the groundwork for a government-wide approach to supporting domestic abuse victims.
But PSAC is also part of the broader labour movement’s push to make domestic violence a workplace issue and ensure those facing abuse get the support they need at work.
The Canadian Labour Congress, which teamed up with the University of Western Ontario for the first survey on domestic violence in the workplace, is encouraging all unions to negotiate provisions in contracts for women’s advocates and paid leave for domestic violence survivors. Many collective agreements already have provisions about workplace violence, but adding domestic violence is something new.
CLC has a suggested template for using advocates or peer support in the workplace and safety planning for victims that includes security, escorting victims to their cars, screening calls, lighting and surveillance cameras.
It suggests establishing training and awareness programs on how to recognize warning signs and advice on how to approach workers.
Critics have argued it’s not a cost that employers should have to shoulder, that it’s too expensive, that leave provision could be abused.
There has been progress. Manitoba amended its employment standards so victims of domestic violence are entitled to five days of paid leave. Last year, the federal government introduced legislation that gave victims of family violence 10 days of leave a year, but it was unpaid. Ontario also is considering legislation.
Saskatchewan, which has the highest rates of domestic violence in the country, introduced legislation to guarantee paid and unpaid leave for employees who face domestic violence. They would be able to take 10 days leave, as well as continuous leave of 17 weeks in a year to get medical or counselling help for domestic violence, seek legal help or move. Up to five days of that may be paid.
The CLC and UWO survey found 34 per cent of respondents said they experienced domestic violence from a partner — a figure that runs higher for women and transgender Canadians. About 35 per cent reported they believe at least one co-worker is facing domestic violence. About 12 per cent said they feel a co-worker is abused, or has abused a partner.
Among those who reported violence, 43 per cent said they confided in someone at work about it.
About 54 per cent of abuse victims surveyed said the violence followed them to work, through abusive phone calls, text messages, stalking or harassment near the workplace.
About 32 per cent who reported abuse said it affected their ability to get to work. About 82 per cent said it affected their job performance because they were distracted, tired, or unable to concentrate; nine per cent say they lost their jobs because of it.