Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence: Offering Security Through Workplace Protection in Australia

by | May 10, 2017

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About Ludo McFerran

Ludo McFerran has been an activist in the Australian domestic violence sector since 1978. She is currently attached to the Women and Work Research Group at the University of Sydney Business School.


Ludo McFerran, “Rights for victims of domestic violence: offering security through workplace protection in Australia” (OxHRH Blog, 10 May 2017) <https://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/rights-for-victims-of-domestic-violence-offering-security-through-workplace-protection-in-australia> [Date of Access]

How can domestic violence spill over into the workplace? Most Australian women who report experiencing domestic violence are employed. It is important for those affected by domestic violence to know that they will be supported at their workplace, and to know what form that support will take. In many countries, protection for workers affected by domestic violence depends upon a lottery of whether they have a proactive and supportive boss. How might this situation be corrected? What has been done to increase protection in those countries that have already begun to tackle this problem? What can we learn from sharing knowledge across countries about how best to secure rights for workers affected by domestic violence and what form those rights should take?

Before 2010, a number of programmes aimed to encourage Australian employers to adopt supportive policies on the issue of domestic violence. The impact of such campaigns was limited and the result unsustainable. The decision by trade unions to include domestic violence clauses in collective bargaining introduced standardised rights for affected workers. The current domestic violence ‘model clause’ used by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) entitles employees experiencing such violence to leave in order to attend legal proceedings, counselling or medical or legal practitioner, or make other arrangements relating to safety. The leave is paid, with the standard being 10 days. The clause also provides protection from adverse action or discrimination as a consequence of domestic violence and the right to safety planning at work. By December 2016, the estimate was that over 2,000 agreements contained a domestic violence clause. In the final quarter of 2016, a third of all agreements approved contained a domestic violence clause, covering 75 per cent of all employees in agreements.

This progress, however, is far from assured. Union membership continues to decline and women disproportionately occupy precarious positions in the workforce. Strong partnerships between collective, employer and government actors have been key to progressing domestic violence workplace rights and a critical voice at this stage is that of progressive employers who have adopted standardised and guaranteed domestic violence rights for their employees, and can present the evidence of the positive outcomes. These experiences now need to be heard at the national and international level to persuade other employers of the value of proactively understanding and responding to the impacts of domestic violence at work. Australia waited 35 years before the union movement made domestic violence a national workplace issue and inserted the workplace firmly into national domestic violence strategy. This delay should not be repeated globally.

Sharing knowledge in international fora could be influential in advancing domestic violence rights for workers. Existing knowledge indicates that the most effective national and international strategies would combine a range of reforms including employment legislation, collective bargaining, anti-discrimination legislation of the kind that operates in certain American states, occupational health and safety legislation following the example of the Canadian province of Ontario and complimentary employer policies being developed in countries such as Turkey. This combination would maximise the safety net and the resources for implementation. The experience in Australia and elsewhere demonstrates that resources for implementation and monitoring must be built into any programme of protection. Good implementation does not always follow good reform.

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