Local councils in Victoria are leading the way and including domestic violence leave provisions in their enterprise bargaining agreements.
Seventy-eight Victorian councils currently offer domestic violence leave, despite Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann warning that it was just “another cost” and would have “counter-productive consequences”.
Surf Coast in Victoria was the first employer to have family violence leave in its enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA), which it introduced in 2010.
The Finance Minister came under fire for his comments on Sky News yesterday (Sunday), after saying that domestic violence leave was “not something that we are attracted to”.
“We just believe it’s another cost on our economy that will have an impact on our international competitiveness,” Mr Cormann said.
“It’s a matter of making sure that you get the balance right and that you pursue policy settings that don’t have counter-productive consequences potentially.”
Government News spoke to National President of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association, Coral Ross, who said domestic violence leave was critical so that victims could attend court dates, deal with safety issues at home or attend legal, medical and counselling appointments.
Family violence clauses can also include safety planning at work, which could mean changing a person’s email, phone number or work location.
Ms Ross was unimpressed by Mr Cormann’s contribution to the debate.
“It costs more to recruit and replace a staff member but it is more than a cost issue,” Ms Ross said. “If someone broke their leg, they would be supported. If someone was a victim of a crime, they would be supported. Why should family violence be any different?”
A 2015 report found that domestic violence costs the Australian economy $21.7 billion per year.
Domestic violence leave has become a political hot potato of late. Only a handful of Commonwealth government agencies and departments currently offer it, including the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the Department of Employment, the Department of Education and parts of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Department of Social Services has removed domestic violence leave from its current agreement.
Departments wanting to have domestic violence leave in their new EBAs have hit a brick wall due to the government’s ‘no enhancements’ rule, which prohibits any improvements to employment conditions in EBAs without ministerial approval.
Deputy Secretary at the Community and Public Service Union Beth Vincent-Pietsch told the senate inquiry into APS bargaining recently that no virtually no APS agency had been able to negotiate domestic violence leave into new agreements, although staff at the ABC now have it in their new EBA.
“Even where managers at the table were sympathetic and keen to add it in, under the bargaining policy it is deemed to be an enhancement; therefore it is not able to be discussed,” Ms Vincent-Pietsch told the inquiry.
“I think it is a real cause of frustration, not only for our members but for the secretaries of departments and agency heads, who would really like to be able to move meaningfully in that space.”
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said that domestic violence leave was important because it gave women a “strong signal” that their employer was sympathetic to their situation, as well as giving them time to do practical things.
“The Senate inquiry into public sector bargaining heard terrible stories from members who’ve experienced domestic violence about the lack of support and understanding from their bosses,” Ms Flood said.
“I’ve personally spoken to a woman in the Department of Human Services who needed support to escape an abusive partner but was instead placed on performance management for taking too much sick leave and then demoted. She then couldn’t afford to leave her partner as her pay had dropped.”
She said the Turnbull Government had blocked Commonwealth agencies from adding domestic violence leave to new agreements.
“The awful reality is that without a secure job, paid leave and a supportive employer, there are some victims of family violence who simply can’t afford to escape.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten has already said that his government would introduce five days of paid domestic violence leave into the National Employment Standards. Casuals would receive five days unpaid leave.
Meanwhile, local government is getting on with the job.
Victoria’s local councils have just been involved with the Victorian government’s Take Action, Go Orange initiative to support the global 16 Days of Activism campaign.
Councils put on 16 days of events and activities devoted to engaging their local communities and helping eradicate violence in the home. Events included panel discussions, film screenings, community breakfasts, art workshops and walks.
Ms Ross said while Australia’s local councils did not directly provide services to people dealing with domestic violence they often came in contact with them in the course of providing other community services, such maternal health centres, childcare centres, libraries, sports facilities, home and community care and during the enforcement of local laws, like those governing dangerous dogs and parking.
“Because we do provide so many services what you can do is be there to spot the signs,” she said.
“We know that gender inequality is the main driver behind violence against women, and so the work being undertaken by councils aims to positively influence and shift community attitudes.”
At least 25 local councils in the state also have specific strategies to prevent violence against women and a further 18 councils have gender equity policies. Victoria also has the highest proportion of female councillors in the country.
Twenty-one Victorian councils, ten of whom received state government grants, run local initiatives responding to domestic violence.
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