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Response to Senate motion: Women, Employment and Domestic Violence

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 6 Feb 2013

Response to Senate motion: 5 February 2013

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (16:46): IĀ  seek leave to move a motion in relation to the response by the Premier of South Australia and the New South Wales Minister for Industrial Relations to the motion on domestic violence.

Leave granted.

Senator RHIANNON: I move: That the Senate take note of the response.

I welcome the commitments made by the New South Wales industrial relations minister and the South Australia premier in response to the Senate motion on women, employment and domestic violence. Any progress in improving work conditions and entitlements for women experiencing domestic violence and their rights at work are obviously welcome.

While great work has been done to achieve the situation whereby currently one million Australian workers are covered by some type of domestic violence clause or policy in the enterprise bargaining agreement or award, progress has been piecemealā€”agreement by agreement. State governments have also been working to introduce provisions, including New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

As a result of the bargaining, some workers have access to dedicated, additional and paid family and domestic leave. Domestic violence clauses can also provide such things as protections against adverse action and access to flexible work arrangements. But what is sorely needed is national action to support these women, and that was the essence of our motion. Even of these one million workers covered by domestic violence provisions, only a portion are protected by all seven ideal principles of a domestic and family violence clause as set out and endorsed by the ACTU.

While a woman may be able to access leave for domestic violence matters, she may have no recourse if her employer dismisses her for domestic violence related issues such as a dip in productivity or being late for work. We need national requirements and standards rather than a drip process whereby individual workplaces make positive changes.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended that the federal government consider including paid domestic violence leave and other provisions as a right in the National Employment Standards. Again, this is backed by the ACTU. We also need antidiscrimination protection to help address the stigma and fear of disclosure at work. This is the time, before the next election, for real action on this issue by the Labor government to support the between 15 and 17 per cent of women who are affected by domestic violence. Allowing women to remain at work is essential to reduce the effects of this violence. To finish: I would like to share a real-life story set out in a recent article in the Human Rights Defender by the Safe at Home, Safe at Work project.

Sylvia worked as a community support worker. She was experiencing domestic violence from her husband who also came into her workplace. She was often late for work and the violence was impacting on her performance generally. Sylvia was eventually terminated for performance issues (lateness). Sylvia then left the relationship. She obtained a domestic violence protection order against her husband which covered her in her workplace.

Sylvia applied to work at another organisation. She did very well at the interview and was sure they would offer her work which they did. The new employer then rang the former employer for a reference. He told them that she'd had heaps of personal and family problems, that there'd been issues with attendance and that the abusive husband had been coming on to work premises causing problems.

This paints a clear picture of why national action is urgently needed.

Question agreed to.

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