Family violence and work

Terri was on a panel of speakers at this year's Women in IR lunch. It was a joint lunch held by the Industrial Relations Society of Queensland and Working Women Queensland. It marked the 20 year anniversary of the latter organisation. The topic was family and domestic violence.

I’m delighted to be here today to speak at the annual Women in IR Lunch and to celebrate 20 years of Working Women Queensland.

I acknowledge the National Breast Cancer Foundation who will receive the proceeds of today’s lunch.

Responding to domestic and family violence is a community responsibility, and organisations like IRSQ and WWQ have an important role to play.

I believe that there is a case for specific working conditions to assist people who are the subject of family and domestic violence.

And further, there’s also a case for looking to build upon discrimination law.

Responding to Family and domestic violence is a community responsibility, and organisations like IRSQ and WWQ have an important role to play

Research from the 2012 ABS Personal Safety Survey and Australian Institute of Criminology showed that one in six women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner.

The biggest risk factor for being a victim of family violence is being a woman.

There has been an increased focus on family and domestic violence recently. In government federally, Labor commenced the process that gave rise to the 12 year National Plan on Violence Against Women, and the action plans that underpin it.

At a state level,I congratulate Premier Palaszczuk and the Queensland Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Shannon Fentiman, for their work so far in responding to the report handed down by the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence, chaired by The Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO.

Sixty-five percent of people who experience domestic violence participate in the workforce.

This means that organisations like WWQ and IRSQ, have an important role to play in responding to the impact that domestic violence can have on the employment relationship.

Women comprise 46 percent of the workforce and yet constitute 69 percent of all part-time employees and 54.8 percent of all casual employees.

Due to the over representation of women in casual and part-time employment, women have less power in the workforce and therefore are easily exploited.

Working Women Queensland has always understood this.

One of Working Women Queensland’s strengths has been their ability to work with the union movement; that’s important because some smaller workplaces are not unionised, meaning the workers, especially the women, are relatively powerless. 

This makes the services that Working Women Queensland provides, a vital part of addressing exploitation.

IRSQ can take a leadership role in informing members about the importance of providing specific working conditions that assist those subject to family and domestic violence. You have a valuable role in working to include these conditions in workplace agreements and awards.

There’s a case for specific working conditions to assist people who are the subject of family and domestic violence

There is a strong case for specific workplace conditions with respect to domestic violence victims and survivors.

Although domestic violence does not often occur in the workplace, it does have an impact on the workplace and the way victims and survivors interact with their workplace and colleagues.

Increased absenteeism due to injury, stress, court appearances and other factors can put a strain on the employment relationship.

Abusers may turn up at a workplace or stalk a survivor or victim at the workplace. This can cause significant stress and anxiety to the victim.

At the very least an employee’s performance can be affected. This can lead to performance management, termination or a forced resignation.

It is vital for those suffering domestic violence or escaping a violent relationship that they are able to maintain stable employment, not least to be able to cope with the legal and health costs that may result from their situation. The ability to have financial independence is paramount to their ability to put their life back together and avoid poverty and ongoing financial hardship.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Queensland Council of Unions have for 12 months now, been advocating to allow Australian workers access to domestic violence leave. They are arguing for ten days’ paid leave for permanent staff, and ten days’ unpaid leave for casuals, to be included in all awards. The ACTU claim also includes the right to request a change in working arrangements, such as start and finish times.

As Ged Kearney has said, “Having a job is critical if women are to leave a violent relationship. Domestic violence is not - and should not - be a private matter that is dealt with behind closed doors”.

Recognising that including a domestic violence clause in enterprise agreements is an effective measure, some unions and employers have negotiated specific conditions into a number of agreements. These have included the provision of domestic violence leave and protections from adverse action on the basis of domestic violence victim status.

However, it is still the case that these clauses only exist in a handful of agreements, and enterprise agreements do not cover the majority of workplaces.

I am aware that a number of employer groups argue against a universal safety net approach, preferring to allow employers to tailor support to individuals.

Peak bodies like the Australian Industry Group are involved in a number of initiatives to encourage employers to become aware of the problems faced by those experiencing, or are survivors of domestic violence.

However, this relies very heavily on an individual employer’s attitude, and whether they recognise that domestic violence as a workplace issue.

People subject to violence will feel able to disclose their personal circumstances only when protections are all in place.

Recognising all this, Labor has committed to Domestic Violence leave as a universal workplace right with appropriate paid leave and employer support, in its National Platform.

There’s also a case for looking to build upon discrimination law

Another way of enshrining these rights is through amendments to anti-discrimination or general protections law.

Before I became an MP, I was involved in a working group, instigated by WWQ and others, that was looking at this very issue.

The Domestic Violence and Workplace Action Committee had among its members a range of stakeholders in the fields of law, industrial relations, unions, universities and professionals supporting domestic violence survivors and victims with the workplace.

The purpose of the committee was to “effect social and legislative change to protect the industrial rights and economic security of people who experience domestic and family violence”.

The committee considered that although Governments at a State and Federal level acknowledged that financial security and employment are vital for victims and survivors of domestic violence, there was little in the way of statutory or regulatory provisions to protect the employment relationship.

Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, or the general protections laws in the Fair Work Act, could be amended to include domestic violence victim status as an attribute that requires protection. Domestic and family violence, like disability, family responsibilities and pregnancy, is an issue that affects people and makes them vulnerable to unfair treatment.

This has the support of a number of Australian legal and human rights agencies and has been subject to numerous submissions to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Once again, I’d like to thank the Industrial Relations Society of Queensland and Working Women Queensland for inviting me to join this important event.

I particularly wish WWQ a very happy 20th anniversary, with many more years to come.

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