Millions of Australians will be entitled to ten days paid domestic violence leave after a landmark decision by the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
The decision, which currently affects those employed under the 123 current industry awards, is likely to set a precedent right across Australia, means that workers should be able to access the leave on an annual basis at their base rate of pay.
In handing down its decision, the full bench of the FWC was in agreement that: “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,” the full bench of the commission wrote in its decision, adding the pandemic had seen an increase in the scourge.
In fact during 2020 reported domestic violence rates across Australia were the highest they had ever been.
Until now, employees have only been able to access five days of unpaid domestic and family violence leave.
A necessity for those needing to flee violence
It’s a ruling which has been strongly welcomed by domestic violence support groups and advocacy organisations because it means that those suffering domestic or family violence won’t be forced to quit jobs or suffer financial hardship as a result of needing time off from their jobs to deal with the mulit-faceted issues they are experiencing at home.
1 in 6 women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner, while for men it is 1 in 16.
Seventy-five percent of victims of domestic violence reported the perpetrator as male, while twenty-five percent reported the perpetrator as female.
Already this year – not even five months in, already 18 women have been killed by a current or previous partner.
The decision takes into consideration that family and domestic violence can be exceptionally disruptive – victims need to make the time to meet with medical specialists, psychologists, police, attending the Family Court and / or the criminal court, move home, change children’s schools etc – the list goes on.
For those fleeing risky situations, an income can be the single factor that makes the difference between being able to walk out the door and not.
Precedent for domestic and family violence leave to be available to everyone
The proposed paid leave would apply to permanent employees only and be paid at the base rate of pay. While the leave would accrue from year to year, it would not exceed 10 days.
It is now up to the Federal Government to make a commitment to all workers by including domestic and family violence leave in the National Employment Standards, which covers an additional 8.44 million workers. The Labor Party has already made this an election promise, the Morrison Government is yet to match it.
Many of the large corporations have included family and domestic violence leave in their workplace policies and agreements for some time, but this will also encourage other small private businesses whose employees don’t fall within the award system, to consider doing so too.
What is domestic and family violence?
Under New South Wales law, domestic and family violence is the term given to violence committed by an intimate partner and includes physical injury, intimidation or serious harassment, wilful damage to property and indecent behaviour without consent.
Along with other states around Australia, New South Wales is also in the process of criminalising coercive control, creating legislation which will make it a standalone offence.
Coercive control includes threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. It has long been recognised that acts of coercive control such as monitoring someone’s communication or time spent with others, withholding food or money, can be early indicators of domestic violence that will escalate to dangerous levels.
Over the past decade, domestic violence has been recognised as a major public health problem. It affects all people – irrespective of economic, educational, social, geographic or racial background.
The reality is that it is going to take Australia a long time – perhaps generations – to stem the tide of domestic violence. In the meantime we must do what we can as a society to support those people who need it financially, at the time they need it most.
This post is informative only. It is not legal advice. If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.
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