THE day my 11-year-old son Luke died almost 18 months ago was without doubt the worst day of my life.
But the year leading up to that day was another kind of nightmare: I lost count of the days I spent in court; the hours I spent making statements to police and meeting with lawyers; the time I’d take out of every day following up on things connected to the charges against Luke’s father. It was like having a second job.
Those experiences are why I am strongly supporting the ACTU’s claim to give workers access to domestic violence leave to deal with the many issues that victims of violence have to cope with.
Giving workers the right to take domestic violence leave means victims will have the security of knowing they are free to attend court appearances, to keep appointments with lawyers, and to make relocation arrangements.
Four million workers would benefit
Last month I was pleased to speak at the ACTU’s Congress to express my support for the union movement’s domestic violence claim – a claim which will give more than four million award workers the right to 10 days paid domestic violence leave for permanent staff, and 10 days unpaid leave for casuals.
Women suffering from family violence can be at risk of harm wherever they are, and so the ACTU is also calling on the Fair Work Commission to give family violence victims access to flexible starting and finishing times, to reduce the risk of stalking when domestic violence victims travel to and from their workplaces.
Already more than 1.6 million employees now have access to paid domestic violence leave in union-negotiated workplace agreements: but I believe it should be a workplace right available to all workers.
I believe that paid domestic violence leave can make a difference that will prevent many people from losing their jobs, entering into spirals of poverty, losing their homes and, ultimately, losing their ability and confidence to work and become independent again.
I was proud to stand with Ged Kearney, the President of the ACTU, to announce my support for the union movement’s campaign. This is an issue that affects everyone, as Ged remarked: “Domestic violence is a whole of society issue and that includes the workplace and employers”.
We know that family violence costs the Australian economy $16.8 billion each year. And good employers know that it can be far more expensive to have to sack a worker and find and retrain someone else, than it is to support an employee through a difficult time.
Helping people experiencing family violence to keep their job and maintain their financial independence is absolutely critical for women trying to escape a violent relationship.
People suffering from family violence are under enormous emotional strain. Lives are often at stake.
It might be a small inconvenience to employers, but for employees who are at their wits’ end, who have exhausted all their other leave options and who are just coping, knowing leave is available and that your job is not at risk makes all the difference.
And having a workplace to go where, hopefully, you can feel safe for a while, and maintain relationships with colleagues, is an important part of the journey.
Sometimes people may find it hard to talk directly with their supervisor or up-line management about the difficulties they are having.
It is imperative that procedures and processes to guarantee confidentiality and sensitivity are in place so that safety is paramount and privacy protected.
This goes beyond politics
I’m calling on all sides of politics to get behind the ACTU’s claim. If Tony Abbott is serious about tackling domestic violence, his government needs to support the ACTU claim.
When I spoke at the ACTU Congress, and after all of the Congress delegates had voted in favour of the resolution, all of the men of all the trade unions were asked to take an oath on this issue.
More than 500 men took to the stage and with their hands on their hearts they pledged: “I swear, never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. This is my oath”.
I’m asking the Fair Work Commission and employers across the country to also take a stand and support women going through these terrible experiences too.
Originally published in worklinglife.org.au