While these new laws won't end domestic violence on their own, they're going to help.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)
Last week Alberta became the second province in Canada to pass legislation providing workers with domestic violence leave. In this case, they are entitled to up to 10 days of unpaid domestic violence leave. Workers are eligible if they or a dependent child or protected adult living with them is experiencing domestic violence.
While some are disappointed that the Alberta leave is unpaid, it is important to acknowledge the significance of the provision. Many people stay in dangerous situations because they can't afford to risk their jobs by taking time off to to seek medical attention, secure a restraining order, or relocate to a safe place. As AFL leader Gil McGowan has said, “While these new laws won't end domestic violence on their own, they're going to help."
The Manitoba government led the country in passing Employment Standards legislation in 2016 that includes 5 days of paid leave. Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador are at different stages of taking similar steps to protect employment for workers experiencing domestic violence.
Recently, Ontario proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act that will allow Ontario workers use Personal Emergency Leave if they experience domestic or sexual violence. They would be allowed ten days, the first two days of which are to be paid. These changes pick up on some aspects of a private members bill introduced by London West MPP Peggy Sattler. That bill, which passed second reading last October provided for up to 10 days of paid leave.
Unions have been instrumental in making domestic violence a workplace issue. Increasingly, union leaders are negotiating domestic violence leave into contract talks. They recognize the importance of including domestic violence language in collective agreements because it secures the right for workers regardless of government policies, which are uneven across the country. It also challenges ‘old school’ employers who focus solely on increasing profit and who are still reluctant or resistant to the logic of protecting the bottom line by protecting workers.
Every step that protects employment for those experiencing abuse is a victory. Legislation provides a floor – a minimum requirement. Beyond the basic right, employers have the opportunity to build up by providing their workers with paid leave. Progressive employers recognize the high costs of not dealing with domestic violence, for individual employees, for the organization and for society.
Progressive leaders in the 21st century recognize that society is organized through interconnection and interdependency. Society and all kinds of organizations within it are part of a whole living system that is networked together. In the big picture, this means we sink or swim together as a species.
The logic of interdependency tells us that we have a responsibility to each other and to the environment around us. As a social system, society is only as strong as its most vulnerable people. Whether they are Premiers, CEOs or Union Presidents, progressive leaders understand and guard the health and wellbeing of the whole eco-system. Within their spheres of influence, they are using their individual power and privilege to make strategic gains to create the best possible conditions for success in their people and their organizations. Creating healthy communities and healthy workplaces is the way to create a healthy society.
We need 21st century leaders in a multiplicity of roles and positions to see and value the connections that make us not just interdependent, but strong and resourceful as well. Some are seeing the opportunities and making the leap, in this case, to protect employment for all workers as a pathway out of domestic violence. Every step makes a difference in people’s lives that can add up to big picture social change.