Bookmark and Share

Domestic violence: a workplace issue

08 August 2014 By ACTU - Working Life

“I HAD to get the children out. I was left with no money, everything taken away from me. I felt less than a person; the emotional abuse is constant. I cannot afford to lose it, I am the sole carer for my children.”

Read this on Working Life here

Jane O’Connor survived. Not all women do.

One woman in Australia dies each week due to domestic violence. It is the leading cause of death for women aged 15 to 45.

Nothing is sacred and there is no safe place: 42% of women report suffering violence when they were pregnant; 35% after separation.

Yet domestic violence is not a legitimate reason for leave under Australia’s Fair Work Act.

Unions are fighting to change that: and stepped in to provide rights and protections for workers suffering domestic violence under the leadership of the pioneering project Safe At Home, Safe At Work.

Domestic violence is a human rights abuse

As National Manager of the Safe at Home, Safe at Work Project, Ludo McFerran led the initiative from inception to a national success; and is a globally recognised leader in the field of domestic violence and work.

McFerran said violence in the home is a serious human rights abuse affecting one in three workers.

“It is an industrial issue, affecting people getting to work, doing their job and staying safe,” she said.

McFerran is now involved in creating an international domestic violence and work network; currently in Britain, New Zealand and Canada.

“Australia was recognised by the United Nations as world leader in domestic violence workplace protections,” she added.

In Australia, the National Domestic Violence & the Workplace Survey of working Australians found that:

•   Nearly one third of workers (30%) experienced domestic violence.
•   Half said domestic violence affected them getting to work (e.g. through injury/restraint).
•   One in five reported violence at work (abusive calls, texts, emails; person turned up).
•   Main impact was on performance (feeling tired, unwell, time off, late).
•   All respondents agreed domestic violence impacts working lives.

How are new rights enforced?

Unions bargain to include domestic violence clauses in Enterprise Agreements. This makes it a right for workers to access domestic violence provisions.

“It’s been inspiring for me to work with the union movement who have really got behind the clauses,” McFerran said.

In 2012, the ACTU Congress passed a resolution that family and domestic violence was a workplace issue, and the ACTU has worked with unions in developing a model clause for domestic violence paid leave for inclusion in EAs. It has had widespread take-up, with approaching two million workers now covered by collective agreements that have domestic violence clauses.

Unions are now seeking to have 10 days of paid domestic violence leave included as a minimum entitlement in all Awards as part of the review of Modern Awards currently underway in the Fair Work Commission.

The first clauses were established by the Public Service Association of NSW and the Australian Services Union in Victoria, but since then unions have negotiated dozens of domestic violence clauses, including in male-dominated industries.

“The Transport Workers’ Union is a strong supporter of initiatives to combat domestic violence and applaud the fact Australian unions are leading the international field in rights at work for people experiencing domestic violence,” TWU NSW Secretary Wayne Forno said.

The TWU addresses domestic violence on the ground, educating members and giving workers rights such as clauses in union agreements. For example at major airline Virgin Australia the TWU agreement includes Family Violence Leave.

The Maritime Union of Australia is committed to the White Ribbon Campaign to eliminate violence against women, MUA National Officer Mich-Elle Myers said.

“Every male official, officer and organiser is a White Ribbon Ambassador. Members fly flags from ships, ferries and cranes on White Ribbon Day; last year raising over $100,000.

“Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman sat on a panel at the ITUC congress in Berlin talking about the issue. The MUA has successfully inserted domestic violence clauses into agreements.”


“I’ve had to take large amounts of sick leave and, when that ran out, annual leave to deal with effects of an abusive partner.

“I thought I was going to lose my job.

“The fear of losing my job made dealing with the emotional and legal issues more stressful than it already was. Losing all my sick leave and much of my annual leave adds to the stress.”

– Anonymous email to Australian Services Union


Domestic violence: your new rights at work

Safe At Home, Safe at Work worked with unions to develop domestic and family violence clauses for collective agreements, now key principles endorsed by the ACTU. Typically, these include:


  1. Dedicated additional paid leave for domestic violence.
  2. Confidentiality of employee details assured and respected.
  3. Workplace safety planning strategies.
  4. Referral to domestic violence support services.
  5. Appropriate training, paid time off for contact persons.
  6. Employees entitled to domestic violence leave also able to access flexible work arrangements where appropriate.
  7. Employees protected against adverse action.


Domestic violence victims and family/household members supporting them have the right to request flexible working arrangements under the Fair Work Act; hard fought and won. But unions want to extend these arrangements by making it an obligation of employers to reasonably accommodate a request and a right to appeal an employer’s unfair refusal.

Discrimination still exists

Inga worked in a boutique in a regional town. Her husband came in to the store . . . Inga had to go to hospital to have a CAT Scan because her husband hit her so hard. She let the owner know. He told her she had to choose between her job and the CAT Scan – he said “you can’t have both”. Inga was dismissed for vague reasons.

By law, employers are required to maintain a safe workplace and duty of care to employees. In the absence of anti-discrimination protections, employers may dismiss a worker to remove the problem.

McFerran said one of the most practical supports employers can provide is paid leave to sort out issues such as legal protections for the victim, their family, home and workplace; and she strongly recommends including the workplace in domestic violence protection orders.

Under the Fair Work Act there is no right to domestic violence leave: unions say there should be.

Sydney social worker Ayesha Islam has 20 years experience working with domestic violence and agrees.

“Nobody should have to disguise it as sick leave or take annual leave for every crisis or court related appointment, or to find accommodation – it is not a holiday,” she said.

The future

Ludo McFerran said Australian Unions’ initiatives on domestic violence have gained momentum internationally, in collaboration with union bodies including the British TUC, New Zealand PSA and Canadian CLC.

“We now have three national domestic violence and work surveys and a very large one distributed to over three million in Canada. The evidence is building internationally and union movements are pursuing domestic violence rights and protections,” she said.

“It is up to unions in a difficult climate to keep Australia in a progressive position, to keep this issue on the agenda by logging domestic violence clauses, training delegates, officials, and educating members.

“The ACTU Women’s Committee, women’s officers at state level and in individual unions, and thousands of ordinary women and men have shown real leadership and insight. So have many key male union leaders.

“There is work to be done in Australia: most effectively done by an independent unit able to track, report and develop research such as the unit that existed before funding ceased.

“I would expect any Australian Government to rectify this mistake if we are to maintain a world leadership role.”

The Abbott Government led by Tony Abbott personally overseeing a minor portfolio for women is yet to put forward a position on domestic violence and work and the inclusion of domestic violence clauses in the Fair Work Act.

There are however Budget impacts reported for domestic violence victims.

Information and help

[See the full news item on Working Life]

Read this on Working Life here

Contact Details
Name: David Smith, ASU National Secretary
Telephone: 03 9342 1400