Council dealing with domestic violence

A proposal for a policy to support staff dealing with domestic violence, as originally proposed by the United Services Union (USU), was debated at the last meeting of Council.

While the policy was well intentioned it sadly consisted mostly of “motherhood statements” – the right words were said but they carried little in the way of substance.

One sticking point for me was the issue of special leave.  The  USU had suggested that employees experiencing domestic violence should have access to up to 20 days special paid leave per year to assist them in dealing with the health, legal and other issues associated with domestic violence.  The policy as presented to Council for approval lacked this.

After some debate, the policy was amended to include the provision for some special leave, however such leave will be available only at the discretion of Council officers, an outcome I feel is not as positive as the provision of 20 days leave would have been.

Below is a copy of the statements I made to Council on the matter.

I spoke previously in support of the 20 day leave provision in this policy and I stand by that position. Although putting “paid” in front of the words “special leave” helps, it still leaves applicants unsure of what they are entitled to and leaves the amount of leave given up to the discretion of the council officer.

I believe that the requirements of proof for domestic violence support are very onerous and must admit that during my experience of domestic violence workplace support was not pursued or considered although it would be essential in this day and age.

I worked in market research, which had a very fluid, casual workforce and I had to change jobs 3 times as the person harassing me kept getting work at the same company I did.

At the time it never entered my head to complain to the management or explain to strangers what was happening to me.

I did not report my problems to anyone, as like so many victims of domestic violence I was ashamed, blamed myself and didn’t really want to get the other person into trouble.

It is not how I would handle things now but for many people these concerns still rule how they respond to domestic violence.

It was only after I had secretly moved one night into what I thought was a safe place and found myself being violently assaulted and choked that my girlfriend rang the police.

Even with the riot squad in attendance this person was hard to manage as the rage that accompanies domestic disputes easily overcomes common sense.

For many people experiencing domestic violence it takes a long time to even recognise what is going on and to break away from the tendency to blame oneself and to try and make excuses for the violent partner. This is even more true of women with families who are trying to save their family unit and shield their children from the violent behaviour of their father.

I would be delighted if the provision in the policy implied that more than 20 days could be given but nowhere is that clear.

Today staff may be aware of this discussion about a domestic violence policy but in the future it will only be what is actually in the policy that staff will be aware of. That is why the policy needs to be very explicit in what it is offering.

I must say I do not understand why the city is so loathe to include the terms as requested by Councillor Burgmann and the union.

The ACTU was on the ABC news this morning and they spoke about research they had done into domestic violence. Of the over 600 responses they received to their survey 30% reported experiencing domestic violence. Of these 1 in 5 were harassed at work, 15% said it affected their capacity to get to work. Both issues I have mentioned above.

The campaign will also attempt to amend the fair work act to have the domestic violence provisions included in the legislation. We should be ready for this move by including the provision of 20 days now like other progressive councils and organisations have done already.


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