Should Complainants Have Access to Paid Domestic Violence Leave?

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Upset employee

An average of one woman per week is killed at the hands of their present or former partner in Australia.

With reports of domestic violence at an all-time high, there are calls for paid domestic violence leave to become standard in all Australian employment contracts.

Victims groups and health workers believe such an entitlement would make it easier for abused people to leave their relationships, and ultimately lower victimisation rates.

Employers should pay for domestic violence

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) claims that paid domestic violence leave would impose a negligible cost on employers, and should be implemented nationwide as a matter of urgency.

Domestic violence leave does exist in Australia – but it is only implemented by a handful of large corporate organisations. In some cases, the leave is not provided across-the-board, but as an ‘opt-in’ arrangement.

In its review of workplace standards earlier this year, the Fair Work Commission agreed that unpaid domestic violence leave should be standard for all Australians. However, the Commission did not call for the introduction of ‘paid leave’, pointing out that complainants have access to other paid leave provisions in employment contracts such as sick leave, family/carer’s leave and personal leave.

The ACTU believes the present situation not good enough. It feels employers should be required to foot the bill for the consequences of domestic abuse. The Council says the leave would provide positive benefits to workplaces, enabling employees to make emergency arrangements for child care or housing, and to deal with legal processes, they don’t feel like their employment is at risk.

Reforms to tenancy laws

Australia is making important reforms to assist victims of domestic violence.

One such reform is new residential tenancy laws which allow complainants to flee their homes faster and without penalty if they are granted a provisional, interim or final AVO, or another court order suggesting they are domestic violence victims.

Other tenancy law changes ensure complainants aren’t penalised for property damage or rental debt caused by a violent partner, and that landlords are prohibited from listing complainants on tenancy databases where a debt or property damage arose because of a violent partner, or from claiming compensation from a tenant whose partner caused damage to a landlord’s premises.

Making it easier for complainants to go to court

The insertion of section 289C – 289S of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) now allows for the admission of video evidence which is taken by police who attend the scene of an alleged domestic violence incident.

These “domestic violence evidence in chief” videos (or DVECs) are reported to have significantly increased conviction rates by reducing the likelihood of accused persons faced with the videos contesting AVOs or pleading not guilty, and increasing the prospects of complainants turning up to court.

More funding for domestic violence

The federal government has declared domestic violence national disgrace, promising a further $100 million in funding across a range of initiatives in an effort to address the problem.

Giving complainants choices

We know many people stay in abusive relationships due to a lack of resources – they simply cannot afford to leave, and with crisis services stretched to the limit, these people have limited options.

It is argued that by supporting complainants with paid leave, they will have a greater ability to flee abusive relationships without fear of losing their jobs.

On the other hand, there is an argument that employers and property owners should not be forced to foot the bill for the consequences of violent relationships, and that the tab for paid leave or property damage should be paid by the government.

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