I want to tell people that family violence happens to [anybody], no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are.
Rose Batty, Speaking on February 14, 2014
I feel as if I have been campaigning against domestic violence all my adult life, but perhaps at last there will be concrete and recognisable, change. In the early 1970s, the Victorian Women’s Liberation Movement put sisterhood into action and established women’s refuges for women and children escaping family violence. I worked at Maroondah Halfway House, a refuge in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne where I grew up, and the second such refuge in Victoria.
I have used my writing skills to raise awareness of this issue by writing articles, poems, short stories, and a one-act play I wrote, The Bitter End, was performed at a Domestic Violence Forum hosted by the UAW 2004. Family and friends have experienced family violence – it is tragic, far reaching and personal!
In 2012, Maroondah Halfway House was recognised for their work in preventing and addressing homelessness at the inaugural National Homelessness Services Achievement awards in Canberra, but how sad it still exists, and so many more houses, are necessary because of the increased scourge of family violence!
As a member of the Union of Australian Women, I’m glad that at last there seems to be a concerted effort in Victoria, not only to spotlight domestic violence, but actually do something to tackle a longstanding problem in our community. The new Labor Government has announced a Royal Commission into Family Violence, and the trade union movement, the Union of Australian Women and many other groups played a hand in making this decision happen.
On April 12th 2014, a small dedicated group of UAW members gathered to hear Jennifer O’Donnell-Pirisi the VTHC Women’s Officer speak on the topic of Domestic Violence. Jen is a member of UAW and has been VTHC Women’s Officer for six and a half years. Her passion and commitment to women evident as she talked, and although the topic is one we discuss regularly, Jen provided fresh and astounding information.
In 2008, she met with then Victorian Minister Morand and several academics to discuss inserting a Family Violence Clause into industrial awards and agreements to enable affected workers to apply for paid leave when necessary. Gillard Government federal ministers Macklin and Shorten supported funding for academics and union representatives to gather information to enable this to happen.
We all think we know the statistics but they still shock. Jen revealed that 60 women a year are murdered because of domestic violence and 20 children a year are also victims. (The tragedy of Luke Batty put domestic violence in the spotlight and has led to Rose being Australian of the Year 2015.)
Victoria has the highest rate of domestic violence in Australia and even accounting for the fact more women are reporting the assaults, it is an epidemic and we are not alone trying to deal with this issue. In Italy, a woman is murdered every 48hours, and in some countries husbands have the right to beat, rape and even murder their wives.
Between February and July 2011, the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC) at the University of New South Wales conducted a national online domestic violence and workplace survey. The survey on the impact of domestic violence at work was completed by over 3600 union members. A full copy of the report is available on the website.
Key findings were:
The majority of the respondents were women (81%), two-thirds were in full time employment and nearly two-thirds (64%) of the respondents were aged 45 and older.
Nearly a third of respondents (30%) had personally experienced domestic violence.
Nearly half those who had experienced domestic violence reported that the violence affected their capacity to get to work; the major reason was physical injury or restraint (67%), followed by hiding keys and failure to care for children.
Nearly one in five (19%) who experienced domestic violence in the previous 12 months reported that the violence continued at the workplace
The major form the domestic violence took in the workplace was abusive phone calls and emails (12%) and the partner physically coming to work (11%).
The main reported impact was on work performance, with 16% reporting being distracted, tired or unwell, 10% needing to take time off, and 7% being late for work.
45% of respondents with recent experience of domestic violence discussed the violence with someone at work, primarily co-workers or friends rather than supervisors, HR staff or a union representative.
48% of respondents who had experienced domestic violence did disclose the violence to a manager/supervisor, though only 10% found them helpful.
For those who did not discuss the problem at work, the major reason given was ‘privacy’, followed by reasons of shame and fear of dismissal.
Over one third of all respondents who had experienced domestic violence reported the violence to the police. 25% of all respondents who had experienced domestic violence had obtained a protection order, but less than half (41%) included their workplace in the order.
Only 14% of those who had experienced domestic violence are still living in the relationship, and only 40% are still living in the family home. Below average numbers (54%) of the respondents who had experienced domestic violence were currently living in mortgaged homes; above average (32%) were living in rented properties.
All respondents thought that domestic violence can impact on the work lives of employees (100%) and a high percentage (78%) believed that workplace entitlements could reduce the impact of domestic violence in the workplace.
For those unfortunate to experience, or live with family violence the responses to the survey would not surprise; they’d recognise the extremes in workplace response:
“My workplace swept the whole incident under the carpet – I felt totally unsupported.”
“(Co-workers) were very supportive of me, and this included accompanying me to court, inviting me to stay at their homes, signing affidavits.”
Therefore, the much overdue Family Violence Clause gained a 7 Star Rating and was endorsed by the ACTU Congress.
ACTU Principles : 7 Star Rating System
Dedicated additional paid leave for employees
Confidentiality of employee details must be assured and respected
Workplace safety planning strategies to be developed
Provide referral to appropriate DV support services
Appropriate training for nominated contact persons
Access to flexible workplace arrangements where appropriate
Protection against adverse action or discrimination
The clause recognises the issue only, union representatives are clear during negotiations that experts must be involved. Leave must be certified and evidence based, involving: doctors, police, counsellors.
Effort must be made to work out safety plans for employees such as relocation, or varying start and finishing times. Flexible work times are important, especially in places where there is no obvious security or swipe card access. People working in large public places such as hospitals, libraries and schools are particularly vulnerable. Statistically, women who are pregnant, especially during the final stage, are the most at risk.
By 2009, 1.3 million workers had the benefit of a Family Violence leave Clause in their workplace agreement.(It is called Family Violence in Victoria and Tasmania, other states call it Domestic Violence.) In 2010, Victoria became the first state to give paid leave (an employee of a council). The maximum anyone has taken off is a week, and on average the leave is half a day. It is not leave that will be abused, it must be certified.
The clause is world’s best practice, quoted in New York by the UN, with Canadian, New Zealand and European unions lobbying for similar paid leave and using the Australian model and the survey findings as support. In Germany they have paid leave for rape and victims of sexual assault, but Australia led the world seeking acknowledgement that domestic violence is not a private matter – women are murdered going to and from work.
Unions are lobbying to get the clause put into the Fair Work Act and hopefully the new government in Victoria’s response is better than the previous minister Wooldridge whose calendar was apparently so busy she couldn’t meet with Jen. The Minister’s advisor also said the clause would be too costly for the public sector to implement!
Currently, it is the private sector and enterprise bargaining achieving success. Modern industrial relations and practice must reflect modern life. Domestic Violence is the biggest contributing factor to homelessness for women under 45. It is a myth that it is only one particular class or cultural group affected and Rose Batty emphasises this too.
If the clause is in the Fair Work Act it means women are protected. They need to feel safe at work and at home. Work protection is empowering and an incentive to stay employed. Family violence often leads to precarious employment and disruptive work history. This clause challenges employers and work colleagues to acknowledge harassment and stalking, to support women who disclose violence at home. They need support and many women say if they had been asked to disclose the true situation they would have – this clause allows work colleagues to be a witness and support for these women.
There are many contributing factors to family violence, but the biggest factor is the need perpetrators have for power and to exercise excessive control. Women know the triggers: often alcohol and drugs but many men abuse even when they have not been drinking.
I hope the current government begins to improve support services for family violence victims, including secure housing, ongoing counselling and a preventative education program in schools and does not just wait for the result of the Royal Commission. They should also publicly support the union movement’s push to insert Family violence Clauses in all awards.
VTHC FAMILY VIOLENCE CLAUSE
1 General Principle
(a) That Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) recognises that employees sometimes face situations of violence or abuse in their personal life that may affect their attendance or performance at work. Therefore, the VTHC is committed to providing support to staff that experience family violence.
2 Definition of Family Violence
The VTHC accepts the definition of Family violence as stipulated in the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic). And the definition of family violence includes physical, sexual, financial, verbal or emotional abuse by a family member.
3 General Measures
(a) Proof of family violence may be required and can be in the form an agreed document issued by the Police Service, a Court, a Doctor, District Nurse, Maternal Health Care Nurse, a Family Violence Support Service or Lawyer.
(b) All personal information concerning family violence will be kept confidential. Information will not be kept on an employee’s personnel file without their express written permission.
(c) Understanding the traumatic nature of family violence the VTHC will support their employee if they have difficulties performing their tasks at work. No adverse action will be taken against an employee if their attendance or performance at work suffers as a result of experiencing family violence.
(e) The VTHC will identify a contact in human resources, union Shop Steward or go to person who will be trained in family violence and privacy issues, for example, training in family violence risk assessment and risk management. The VTHC will advertise the name of the contact.
(f) An employee experiencing family violence may raise the issue with their immediate supervisor, their union delegate/shop steward or Human Resources.
(g) Where requested by an employee, the contact person will liaise with the employee’s supervisor on the employee’s behalf, and will make a recommendation on the most appropriate form of support to provide in accordance with sub clauses 4 and 5.
(h) The VTHC will develop guidelines to supplement this clause and which details the appropriate action to be taken in the event that an employee reports family violence.
(a) An employee experiencing family violence will have access to 20 days per year (non accumulative) of paid special leave for medical appointments, legal proceedings and other activities related to family violence. This leave will be in addition to existing leave entitlements and may be taken as consecutive or single days or as a fraction of a day and can be taken without prior approval.
(b) An employee who supports a person experiencing family violence may take cares leave to accompany them to court, to hospital, or to mind children.
5 Individual Support
(a) In order to provide support to an employee experiencing family violence and to provide a safe work environment to all employees, the VTHC will approve any reasonable request from an employee experiencing family violence for:
(i) changes to their span of hours or pattern or hours and/or shift patterns;
(ii) job redesign or changes to duties;
(iii) relocation to suitable employment within the VTHC;
(iv) a change to their telephone number or email address to avoid harassing contact;
(v) any other appropriate measure including those available under existing provisions for family friendly and flexible work arrangements.
(b) An employee experiencing family violence will be referred to the appropriate support services/agencies and/or other local resources.
(c) An employee that discloses to Human Resources or their supervisor that they are experiencing family violence will be given a resource pack of information of current support and referral services.
There have been, and are, so many amazing people working to improve the lives of women and children affected by family violence. It is beneficial for those of us who feel we’ve been struggling forever to remind ourselves social justice campaigners are many – we are not alone.
Let’s hope that Rose Batty’s voice remains strong and her campaign and wise words are heard often this year so that her wish to see positive change is granted.
Family violence] is an entrenched epidemic that we’ve lived with since time began, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I do believe the tide is turned. It’s no longer a subject that only occurs behind closed doors
Ms Batty after receiving her Australian of the Year award on January 25, 2015.
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