Family violence leave law milestone: The result of decades of activism

August 10, 2022
A new paid leave law will assist all workers having to deal with domestic violence.

After more than a decade of campaigns by women, unions and activists, a bill to enshrine 10 days of paid family violence leave in Australia’s National Employment Standards was introduced by federal industrial relations minister Tony Burke on July 28.

If passed, the Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2022 would mean that all workers — including casuals — will have access to the leave if they need it.

I was extremely fortunate to have been in Canberra to watch the bill being introduced. The day was a reminder for me of how grassroots activism and collective action can create life-changing and ground-breaking conditions for workers.

I also had the honour of speaking about how to bill came to be at a breakfast event at Parliament House. 

Family violence campaigner and Family Violence Clearinghouse worker Ludo McFerrin first raised the idea in 2009. An Australian Services Union delegate then became aware of the clause at a Geelong Women Unionists Network meeting at Geelong Trades Hall. The delegate successfully bargained the clause into her enterprise bargaining agreement at the Surf Coast Shire.

It is believed that the Surf Coast Shire became the first council to give its employees access to 20 days leave a year if they are experiencing family violence.

The clause was aimed at ensuring job security for workers experiencing family violence, as well as providing workplace support for them to be safe at home and at work.

Since then, pushed along by unions and activists, millions have been able to negotiate the clause into their workplace enterprise agreements.

The Fair Work Ombusman in May introduced a provisional decision to include paid family and domestic violence leave in awards for permanent employees. This bill aims to amend the Fair Work Act 2009 to provide paid family and domestic violence leave at the person’s full rate of pay in the National Employment Standards (NES).

This would replace the existing entitlement in the NES to five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave.

The bill is a direct result of grassroots campaign work by women, unions and activists, which Australian Council of Trade Unions President Michele O’Neil paid tribute to on the day the bill was introduced.

“Family and domestic violence is a national emergency in Australia,” O’Neil said. “With 1 in 4 women having experienced some form of violence since the age of 15 at the hands of an intimate partner, it cannot be understated just how critical winning paid FDV [Family Violence Leave] leave is — lives will be saved.”

O’Neil said “economic security is a primary factor determining whether a person subjected to family or domestic violence can escape from a dangerous situation” and that winning 10 days paid family violence leave “will allow many more women to escape violence and keep their jobs”.

A groundswell of community support is often needed to push governments to take action, and we need to keep the pressure up to ensure the bill passes in the Senate so that the new paid entitlement starts on February 1.

Green Left has always stood with grassroots campaigners, because we know where real change comes from. If you like our work become a supporter and make a donation to our Fighting Fund.

[Adele Welsh is a delegate of the Australian Services Union and a co-convenor of Geelong Women Unionists Network.]

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