Women's Legal Centre calls for domestic and family violence leave

The Women’s Legal Centre appeared before the Senate Education and Employment Committees Inquiry into the Fair Work Amendment (Equal Pay for Equal Work) Bill 2022 today.

Our vision is that women are safe, strong, and in control of their lives. For many of our clients our practice family law and employment law practices overlap to support women to achieve that outcome.

The Women’s Legal Centre started working on the issue of domestic and family violence and work over five years ago, driven completely by the experience of our clients.

Too often, we would find women would come in for family law advice and, as their matter extended and their circumstances became more complicated, many women found it more and more difficult to manage their job, while also attending to court dates, lawyers appointments, doctors appointments. As they might describe it – something has to give and the only thing that has no give is work. This is borne out by the evidence which tells us two in three women do not stay at the same workplace following family violence.

It is clear to us that introducing paid domestic and family violence leave is the logical evolution of the modern workplace that is focussed on maximising the productivity and participation of all people.

There are three reasons why.

  1. Because workplaces evolve.

As many of the managers and employers we have trained in this area have themselves reflected, 10 years ago it would have been unimaginable to have a conversation with your employer about your mental health. It is now common to have an organisational level strategic response to support staff experiencing mental ill-health. There is widespread support for the proposition that workplaces have a role to provide support to staff affected by mental ill health, not as a feel good policy but as a basic business imperative.

The prevalence of domestic and family violence, the cost motivations in retaining good staff and avoiding turnover and recruitment, and changing social norms support the inclusion of domestic and family violence as workplace issue as a continuation of the same realisation and understanding.

  1. Because we know employers can manage this, with support.

We were commissioned by the ACT government to develop and deliver training for public sector managers on workplace responses to domestic and family violence, including managing a paid leave entitlement.

We have trained over 600 managers and employers to support good practice in responding to DFV. What struck us was that managers and employers are already dealing with extraordinarily complex personal issues at work. When we place the issue of domestic and family violence within the context of existing HR frameworks, and clarify the expectations of them were to support people to manage the effects of the violence at work; manage peoples’ safety in the workplace and link them to specialist supports, we found anxiety and disquiet about the policy almost totally evaporates.

  1. Because paid domestic and family violence leave makes a difference.

Paid leave can create the platform for ongoing financial independence for women, which is one of the greatest foundations for both immediate and long-term safety. So far this year, we have opened ongoing family law matters for 133 women. 122, or 92% of them are in paid employment of some kind. Every single one of them earns well below the average Australian income.

Being able to stay in paid work makes leaving a violent relationship a possibility.

 Being able to secure and stay in decent paid work is pathway to independence, stability and long-term safety.

Every single day we speak with clients who are clinging on to their jobs as they try and navigate separation, as they attend appointments with us, attend court to apply for Family Violence Orders, as they negotiate to try and secure safe arrangements for their kids and fair division of any property. The number of examples we have of where employers have been offered them support is small, but when they do it can be life-changing.

You can read the Centre’s submission, endorsed by specialist women’s legal services across the country here.