The Australian Fair Work Commission (FWC) announced a ground-breaking decision on July 3rd to establish Australia as the first country in the world to enshrine family and domestic violence leave as a national right. With the ruling, Australian workers will have access to 10 days of unpaid leave to deal with issues that may include counselling, fleeing from violence, attending court or finding safe housing. This is an important development that takes critical steps to protect vulnerable workers and their jobs.
Internationally, the links between economic independence, being in paid employment and the impact of domestic violence have been steadily developing. Women with a history of domestic violence:
- have a more disrupted work history
- are consequently on lower personal incomes
- have had to change jobs more often
- are employed at higher levels in casual and part time work
(Adams et al., 2013; Crowne et al., 2011; Moe & Bell, 2004; Swanberg et al., 2005).
Progressive employers in Australia have been offering domestic violence leave for approximately one million workers for some time. However the condition is case-by-case and subject to the whim of employers. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) successfully led the campaign in Australia to make it a mandatory entitlement for all workers. While the FWC stopped short of granting a paid entitlement, they accepted the ATCU’s argument that family and domestic violence is a significant community issue that disrupts workforce participation and disproportionately disadvantages women in a way that requires a workplace response. The Commission applauded ACTU for being “an agent of social unity” and has left the door open for future considerations of paid leave.
ACTU President Ged Kearney expressed disappointment that the decision to award paid leave was not realized but went on to acknowledge the FWC decision is an important “first step in the fight to ensure working people trying to deal with or recover from family and domestic violence have both job and financial security.” It is. The victory of securing unpaid leave as a national right for all workers is significant and meaningful. Job protection and support for workers as they deal with the complexity of family and domestic violence is a progressive advance that will have benefits for individuals, communities and society as a whole. Every victory should be recognized and celebrated.
Canada is not without its own victories. Provincially, the Manitoba government leads the country in passing Employment Standards legislation in 2016 that includes 5 days of paid leave. In Ontario, public consultations are getting underway for Bill 148 which would make changes to Employment Standards. If the legislation passes all employees in Ontario will be entitled to 10 Personal Emergency Leave (PEL) days per year, including two paid PEL days. The reasons for taking Personal Emergency Leave would also be expanded so that employees experiencing domestic or sexual violence or the threat of sexual or domestic violence could take the leave. These can be seen as important first steps toward a national response that Australia has made imaginable this week.