It’s time to take domestic violence leave seriously as a workplace right

Workforces pushing for domestic violence leave deserve support, not contempt.

Workforces pushing for domestic violence leave deserve support, not contempt. Photo: Stocksy/Simone Becchetti

Ignorance of the broad industrial relations push for domestic violence leave has surely left Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair feeling a little flushed this week. A reprehensible blog post attacking the ABC over DV leave was published over the weekend, with even those used to his regular bile shaking their heads that it was given the OK.

In the blog, titled 'Tax Funded Spousal Assault Community', Blair ridiculed ABC staff for including family violence leave in their list of claims ahead of an upcoming Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.

"Evidently the ABC employs so many victims of domestic violence that they require their own special leave allowance category – which is interesting, given how many ABC employees are married to or shacked up with other ABC employees.

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"What kind of carnage-strewn bloodhouse are they operating over there?" he tittered.

"Is that why ABC staff work so few hours – because they're always recovering from the previous night's beatings? Why are staffers not pressing charges instead of seeking leave?"

Apparently ignorant of the fact that domestic violence leave is increasingly common - and something the ACTU is pushing in EBAs across all industries and workplaces in Australia - Blair found the whole idea simply laughable: more evidence of #theirABC frittering away taxpayers' money up in those ivory towers of Ultimo. Inventing their own special leave categories. Taking the day off instead of "pressing charges", as if you wouldn't need time off work to attend the police station or the court house.

Completely out of touch.

More embarrassing for Blair and The Daily Telegraph, though, was the announcement on Monday that not only had the ABC's members endorsed the claim for family violence leave for their next EBA, so had the members at Blair's own News Corp.

But perhaps Tim Blair isn't entirely to blame for his rank ignorance of the movement for workplaces to broadly adopt family violence leave; or the benefits it stands to offer both to individual employees and society at large.

After all, the Australian government itself gave the push for family violence leave a slap in the face just last month, when PM Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Women Michaelia Cash announced - on International Women's Day of all days - that they would be cancelling domestic violence leave provisions for public servants.

No big deal, they claimed, despite it going against their policy of giving broad lip service to the idea of doing something about Australia's domestic violence crisis. Women can just make use of existing miscellaneous leave if they get beaten, raped, stalked, threatened, manipulated and eventually stuck in a legal battle with a partner or family member, apparently.

Katelin McInerney from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) says while there is broad support for the idea of letting workers use personal or carer's leave in cases of family violence, employers are tending to draw the line at making a separate leave provision. Which is to be expected, since there will always be pushback from employers when new rights are sought.

Most companies are more open to acknowledging family violence as one possible use of personal leave - which is better than doing absolutely nothing, but not by much. There are good reasons to make it a separate provision, McInerney argues. Not least that victims shouldn't have to use up their sick leave to do things like go to court, see a counsellor, or deal with the lurking prospect of an emergency situation suddenly unfolding.

But it's also about sending a message that domestic violence is a reality and a social issue that employers have a responsibility to support their workers through.

"This is an issue quite distinct from [illness] and has a distinct set of implications for women, and people suffering from it particularly," McInerney says. "And the workplace and employers have a very distinct role to play in supporting people through situations of family violence.

"Being able to know that your employer is aware of the situation in a non-judgemental way and you've accessed this leave that they have sanctioned... that is a very different situation than applying for carer's leave or personal leave, which is effectively not facing the problem head-on."

Of course, providing employees with special leave allowances should they find themselves the victims of domestic abuse isn't going to solve the national crisis alone. But given the absolutely dire picture painted by the findings of Victoria's Royal Commission into Family Violence last week, this simple step for workplaces to support employees who find themselves in such a horrific situation should be a no-brainer.

Once upon a time, providing women with paid maternity leave was unthinkable. But as a society we have come to recognise that allowing parents to take leave, not only for physically recovering from childbirth but for the important parental bonding experience - both for mothers and fathers - provides an important social and workplace good.

If we are truly committed to tackling domestic violence as a society, we need to acknowledge not only the impact it has on workers, but on the role workplaces have to play in killing the stigma and supporting victims through an extraordinarily difficult time in their lives.