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Domestic Violence Leave Imminent In Australia, In 'World First' Reform

10 days unpaid leave 'necessary' to be put into modern awards, Fair Work Commission says.

03/07/2017 5:20 PM AEST | Updated 03/07/2017 5:22 PM AEST
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Australian workers are in line to get access to 10 days of unpaid domestic violence leave, in what is being hailed as a world first reform by trade unions.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) had mounted a campaign for all workers to be granted access to paid domestic violence leave, as part of the Fair Work Commission's four-yearly review of modern awards, the basic conditions under which all people are employed. While the FWC in the end rejected the union push for 10 days paid leave, the commission's "preliminary view" was that it was "necessary" for 10 days of unpaid leave to be inserted into modern awards as a mandatory entitlement.

"We have formed the preliminary view that it is necessary to meet the modern award objectives for provisions to be inserted in modern awards which would allow for a period of unpaid family and domestic violence leave and which would allow employees who experience family and domestic violence access to personal/carer's leave for the purpose of taking family and domestic violence leave," the FWC said in its ruling on Monday.

"Such unpaid leave serves to confirm the significance of family and domestic violence leave as a workplace right and provides an employment protection in circumstances where there is a need to access such leave."

Domestic violence leave is used for victims to get their affairs in order after an incident. For instance, victims may need time to attend court or police stations, flee abusive homes or family members, or set themselves up in a new safe location. Many employers in Australia and abroad offer domestic and family violence leave to employees -- Qantas, the NAB and Commonwealth banks, and Virgin offer the condition, and the ACTU previously told HuffPost Australia that around one million workers are covered by such schemes in this country. However, the condition is available only on a case-by-case basis and subject to the whims of employers. The FWC decision means all workers around Australia will have access to domestic violence leave as a basic right, the same as sick leave or annual leave.

"It is accepted that the processes in dealing with family and domestic violence (such as preparing for and attending court proceedings) are time consuming. In this regard, we refer to our previous comments surrounding the inadequacies of the current leave provisions for victims of family and domestic violence," the FWC said.

The commission stressed the decision was "preliminary" and more work was needed before the reforms became enshrined.

"There has been no opportunity for interested parties to make submissions or call evidence if necessary in relation to our preliminary view and we intend to provide such an opportunity. We propose to convene a mention to hear from interested parties about the future timetabling of this review," the decision read.

"However, we are not satisfied that the ACTU has made out a case for ten days paid leave to all employees. We have also formed the view that the ACTU's proposed definition is too broad in scope and would be difficult to apply. Those conclusions however do not negate the need for a protective unpaid provision."

The ACTU said it was disappointed that its application for paid leave was knocked back, but celebrated the unpaid leave decision and said it would continue pushing for greater reforms.

"The ACTU is disappointed that the FWC has not awarded paid leave at this time, but this decision is the first step in the fight to ensure working people trying to deal with or recover from family and domestic violence have both job and financial security," ACTU president Ged Kearney said.

"Australia will become the first country in the world to have a nationally enshrined right to family and domestic violence leave."

"Family and domestic violence leave predominantly impacts women, leading to financial hardship, job insecurity and ultimately safety risks for families and people affected. While the FWC has not been able to hand down a decision for paid leave at this time, it has left the door open for it in the future and we will fight until it is a workplace right for all."

SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer, however, slammed the FWC's decision.

"Today's Fair Work decision is a massive blow to workers experiencing family and domestic violence. Two thirds of women reporting recent domestic violence are in paid employment. This decision puts their lives at risk during a time when they need financial support and job security the most," he said.

"We need to change our current workplace laws because they are failing women. One way to do that is by providing access to the time off they need to escape an abusive or violent situation, including attending court hearings or looking for a safe home to relocate children and pets."

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