Why Should We Campaign for Paid Domestic Violence Leave?
Worldwide, 1 in 3 women will experience a form of violence.
Domestic violence is not a private or personal matter. It is a violation of human rights; the manifestation of inequalities, discrimination, patriarchy, and imbalanced power. Domestic violence is also a workplace issue. It affects workers and their work environment, just as being ill affects workers and their capacity to work. The stress, emotional and physical exhaustion and physical consequences can lead to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and lack of focus, which can cause workplace accidents. Survivors of violence lose an average of 10 days a year dealing with the impact of violence – from addressing injuries, attending to legal matters including police and courts, finding safe accommodation, seeking counselling, and attending to the needs of their children. In Peru for instance, businesses lost 70 million workdays (equivalent to 3.7% of GDP) from intimate partner violence in 2013. Domestic violence can also take place in the workplace through stalking, abusive phone calls, text messages and emails, and harassment, presenting a risk to both survivor and colleagues. To sum, violence does not have to take place in the physical workplace to be considered as violence in the world of work. At the same time, failure to provide a safe workplace can expose workers to violence and harassment.
The effects of domestic violence can manifest for years after the abuse, hindering women’s economic empowerment. Survivors have been found to experience job loss, disrupted work history, reduced income, job insecurity and higher rates of part-time and casual work. In Canada, a 2009 study found that survivors of spousal violence lose about $34 million in wages. In the US, intimate-partner violence amounts to $52,000 in lost wages over a lifetime, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
A growing body of evidence suggests that the workplace is a crucial point for interventions, and employers as a key stakeholder, to stop and mitigate the effects of gender-based violence. This makes a case for why services that support employees affected by violence, such as paid domestic violence leave, are just. Adequate and appropriate workplace interventions can ensure the safety, security, and well being of survivors whilst mitigating the economic impact for employers.
Paid domestic violence leave can save lives.
The workplace can be a safe place for survivors to seek support and paid domestic violence leave can help survivors get out of an abusive relationship. Paid domestic violence leave allows survivors and their children to be safe without having to worry about losing their jobs or retaliation from employers. Getting out of a violent relationship, and healing from the effects of violence requires time and money. In Australia, it would cost $18,000 and 141 hours on average, according to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Emergency logistics often have to be dealt with during office hours. They need time away from work to move house (or have a violent family member removed), open new bank accounts, seek legal and medical help for themselves and their children, attend court hearings, arrange counselling and change their contact information. They may need time to recover from physical and emotional abuse.
Why should we push for paid leave? Some federal states and private companies offer unpaid domestic violence leave. However, if uncompensated, survivors are less likely to take time off from work. Emergency logistics cost money, and leaving a violent relationship requires financial independence. Paid domestic violence leave can assure a steady income while survivors organise their lives.
Paid domestic violence leave can help end the cycle of abuse.
Beyond providing practical support for survivors, a domestic violence leave policy (including paid domestic violence leave) in the workplace is a strategy towards the broader goal of ending all forms of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is a systemic problem that requires effective legislation and a cultural shift. A paid domestic violence leave policy sends a strong message that domestic abuse is a workplace issue and abusive behaviour is unacceptable. This encourages survivors to seek support, lessens stigma, and highlights that domestic violence requires the support and involvement of the entire community. Domestic violence is about control, and financial independence is often the line between escaping and being trapped in an abusive relationship.
The demand for paid domestic violence leave is socially just. One in three women experience a form of violence in their lives and unions can and must contribute to ending the global epidemic. All leave has been fought and won by unions, and without our work, a large number of workers will suffer through violence because they have little choice.
A comprehensive policy on harassment and violence at work, with a strong focus on gender-based violence, is an essential issue for workers providing public services and for the larger world of work. Women around the world are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence at work, and 2/3 of PSI’s membership are women. An ILO study also confirms that workers in the public sector, particularly those in healthcare and education, are more at risk.
Besides, support services for domestic violence survivors should be a public service. However, the failure of capitalist globalisation and regressive tax policies mean women disproportionately bear the brunt. Austerity measures resulted in budget cuts for support services to women, including domestic violence survivors. In London, funding has been slashed by an average of 38% since 2010, in spite of the increasing incidence of domestic violence (see also the case in the US). Corruption and unjust tax systems also siphon funding away from necessary and quality public services essential to support survivors to end violent relationships and rebuild lives.
The Policy Landscape
Domestic violence leave policies are uncommon and paid domestic violence leave even more so. To date, only two countries – Philippines and New Zealand – have national legislation on paid domestic violence leave. In the United States and Canada, paid domestic violence leave is guaranteed only in a few states. Australia, meanwhile, recently legislated a five-day unpaid leave despite demands for paid domestic violence leave by the trade union movement. However, paid leave has been secured for some workers delivering public services secured through bargaining by unions.
More broadly, legal provisions addressing domestic violence in the workplace are either lacking, insufficient or incoherent. According to a 2018 World Bank report, 45 out of 189 countries studied had no laws on domestic violence, and 59 do not have workplace sexual harassment laws. To date, paid domestic violence leave is included in the draft ILO Recommendation on EndingV iolence and Harassment Against Men and Women in the World of Work (Article 17, section a).
Countries with legislated paid domestic violence leave
Paid domestic violence leave should be a universal right, equal in status to other paid leave entitlements. It should be in addition to holiday, sick leave and other entitlements. Noting that many migrant and precarious workers do not have access to paid sick and vacation days, it should be available to casual, informal and contract workers. Survivors may also be allowed to use their other leave entitlements for matters relating to domestic violence if their paid domestic violence leave runs out. Evidentiary requirements to access such should not be onerous. This entitlement should cover the survivor or a worker who needs to care for dependents (e.g. children) affected by domestic violence.
Paid domestic violence leave should not be an isolated campaign, but part of a demand for a comprehensive policy that seeks to protect and support survivors, as well as prevent domestic violence. These include providing flexible working arrangements, respecting survivors’ privacy and confidentiality, protection from discrimination, safety planning, capacity development for staff, and counselling among others.
Trade unions and allies should demand paid domestic violence leave and other workplace support in collective bargaining agreements and national legislation. The ILO Convention and Recommendation, if adopted and ratified, can serve as powerful tools to hold governments and employers accountable. Trade unions and allies, therefore, must ensure that paid domestic violence leave stays in the proposed ILO instruments, and drum up support for its adoption and ratification.
If legislation is in place, however, the trade union movement should raise awareness and push for implementation. In the Philippines, a 2015 survey found that only 39% of Filipino respondents knew about the law, and 26% reported employers negatively reacting when applying for leave.
Paid domestic violence leave clauses in national legislation, and collective bargaining agreements set precedents for other employers and countries. For instance, from the first paid domestic violence leave clause successfully negotiated between the Australian Services Union (ASU) and the Surf Coast Shire Council in 2010, 860 enterprise agreements have followed suit, covering almost two million workers in Australia. Developments such as these on the ground can also influence international processes like the ILO standard-setting process.
What Can We Do?
Gather and share evidence
Collate data and case studies on the prevalence and impact of domestic violence. Share findings and stories with union members, employers, government, and to the public.
Talk about it
Discuss the issue with union members, shop stewards and in (but not exclusively) the women’s committees, speak at events and increase visibility in the workplace through advocacy materials (e.g. posters, stickers, pamphlets). Raise public awareness through social and traditional media. Write blogs and opinion pieces.
Talk to workers and increase union membership.
Provide union support services to survivors
Walk the talk and provide practical and emotional support such as counselling, and provide information about available resources and services.
Be consistent and persistent with your messaging
Conduct a stakeholder analysis and anticipate counter-arguments. Repetition and consistency of messaging across all platforms are important. This includes consistency in use of visual materials such as campaign logos.
Build a broad alliance
Create a network of unions, active members including domestic violence support workers, women’s rights advocates, civil society organisations, social movements, and engaged members of the public who can work together to push for legislative change.
Develop and support spokespeople
Develop and support spokespeople for the campaign which include union leaders, allies, and domestic violence support workers.
Prepare templates for bargaining clauses and implementation of procedures
Work with relevant public authorities to develop model policies and procedures
For instance, New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission worked with seven corporations to develop a model workplace family violence policy that employers can adapt and use.
Lobby governments and work across political lines
Organise dialogues with government representatives to the ILO and push for workers’ demands in the final version. Pressure government representatives to adopt and ratify the Convention. Meet with relevant ministers (health, women and children, human rights, labour) to present evidence and lobby for national legislation.
Encourage stakeholder groups and the national trade union centres to express their support publicly
Include paid domestic violence leave in collective bargaining agreements
Engage in the ILO Process
Organise dialogues with relevant government representatives and national trade union centres.
Ensure the representation of women, youth and other marginalised sectors in all actions
Share your campaign materials and stories