Millions entitled to 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave after ‘historic win’
PublishedMay 17, 2022
Sydney Morning Herald, 16 May 2022
Millions of Australians will be entitled to 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave under a landmark decision by the industrial umpire handed down on Monday.
In a historic provisional decision that affects over 2.6 million people employed under modern awards, and likely to set a precedent for all employed Australians, the Fair Work Commission has held workers should be able to access the leave on a yearly basis at their base rate of pay.
“Family and domestic violence is a ubiquitous and persistent social problem. While men can, and do, experience FDV, such violence disproportionately affects women. It is a gendered phenomenon,” a full bench of the commission wrote in its decision, adding the pandemic had seen an increase in the scourge.
“We have concluded that the merits strongly favour a paid FDV leave entitlement.”
Under the national employment standards, which apply to all employees covered by an award or not, workers are entitled to five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave.
With Labor pushing to make that 10 days’ paid leave, the Fair Work ruling could set up a policy battleground on industrial relations and gender equality just days out from the election after economic stoushes about wage growth and superannuation for housing. Comment has been sought from the Coalition.
Labor’s spokeswoman for prevention of family violence, Jenny McAllister, said Labor had been calling for 10 days’ paid leave as a universal entitlement since 2017.
“Unions, business groups, and victim-survivors all support it. Now the Fair Work Commission does too. Scott Morrison is totally isolated on this issue. He needs to answer the question, ‘why does he still oppose this important reform?’”
The Coalition voted against a move by Labor in the Senate to insert 10 days’ paid leave into the Respect@Work legislative amendments in September. Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash said it was being dealt with by Fair Work.
In reaching its decision, the commission received information that from the age of 15, one in 4 women, compared to one in 13 men, experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner, and that family and domestic violence costs employers $2 billion annually.
“In comparison to women with no experience of [family and domestic violence], women experiencing or who have experienced FDV have a more disrupted work history; are on lower personal incomes; have had to change jobs frequently; and are more likely to be employed on a casual and part-time basis,” the commission said.
Hayley Foster, who chairs sexual, domestic and family violence counselling and advocacy organisation Full Stop Australia said the outcome was “incredibly emotional”.
“It’s impossible not to be overcome with joy right now. This is going to be an absolute game changer,” she said.
Chief Executive Women president Sam Mostyn said the group had long advocated for the reform. “We know that around 62 per cent of women who experienced family and domestic violence in the last 12 months were in paid work,” she said.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil called it a “historic win and a generational achievement for millions of women who have fought for this against the resistance of this and previous Coalition governments”.
“Already this year 18 women have been killed by their current or previous partner. Access to paid family and domestic violence leave saves lives. No worker should ever have to choose between their income and their safety,” she said.
The Fair Work Commission will consult with interested parties, giving them an opportunity to object, before the decision is cemented and details of implementation are finalised.
Employer lobby Australian Industry Group, which this year urged the federal government to subsidise the current five-day entitlement at the national minimum wage, said the commission’s decision had also rejected an ACTU claim for the paid leave to be added to the existing five-day entitlement.
“The Commission has made a finding that the cost impact on employers is unlikely to be substantial due to the likely low employee rate of access to the entitlement,” Ai Group head Innes Willox said.
Major employers, including Telstra and PricewaterhouseCoopers, offer employees 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave, and Business Council of Australia head Jennifer Westacott last year used her address to the National Summit on Women’s Safety to call for corporate bosses to step up and make the paid leave universal.
Advocates are calling on the government to insert paid domestic and family violence leave into the National Action Plan to End Violence and Women and Children, with the draft under consideration.