The recent push for paid domestic violence leave is a proud step forward for corporate Australia, with many of our largest enterprises now writing DV leave into their awards framework.
Virgin, Telstra, IKEA, NAB and McDonalds are among the first to comply, and subsequently 1.6 million Australian workers now have access to the scheme.
Unions have also been hard at work, campaigning for more widespread implementation of the policy. They push that it will prevent victims from having to unfairly rely on annual and sick leave to attend court proceedings, family requirements, and counselling. ACTU President Ged Kearney described Telstra’s recent commitment as “a great leap forward for a cause that has for far too long been behind closed doors”.
With this in mind, and holding firmly to the knowledge that 1 in 3 women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence during their life time, it’s hard to comprehend Senator Michaelia Cash’s position on the matter. The Minister for Women argued on Friday that DV leave could act as a "perverse disincentive" for businesses to hire more women.
Cash’s claim was pounced on by the Labor party, who described it as “callous” while the CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union) who are campaigning for DV leave to be specified in enterprise agreements, argued that her point exposed the “Turnbull government's anti-women agenda".
While the accusation by the CPSU may seem severe, Cash’s position is dangerous. By arguing that domestic violence leave could act as a disincentive for businesses to hire more women, Cash could be indirectly permitting this to happen. She justifies potential discrimination rather than quashing and condemning the possibility of it.
It’s not dissimilar to someone claiming for instance, that working women should cease having children, else risk discrimination from employers who resent paying maternity leave. While we understand that discrimination toward women in the workforce still occurs, we have at least put mechanisms and laws in place so that employers can’t do so flagrantly.
Workers suffering domestic violence should not fear potential employment set-backs, it is up to the government and law to protect them from this.
In a broader sense, Cash’s point reflects poorly on the Turnbull government’s supposed “game-changing” agenda on domestic violence. It highlights the fact that despite throwing $100 million dollars at the crisis, there is really very little strategy in place beyond that. It is easy to spruik support for a cause but less so to deliberate on, and implement solutions.
Ultimately, the government needs to clarify its stance promptly as Labor primes itself for policy combat. Labor's employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor confirmed on Friday, that a “Shorten Labor government will make domestic and family violence leave a universal workplace right, by providing for five days paid domestic and family violence leave in the National Employment Standards."
I, for one, will toast that promise.
If we accept the staggering statistics surrounding domestic violence in Australia, we must also face up to the truth that millions of Australian workers have either been subjected to violence or have been perpetrators of it. Domestic violence therefore, is not a “domestic” problem, it is an epidemic that infiltrates every part of our national identity as well as individual lives. It’s encouraging to see businesses weighing in and doing their bit. Let’s hope the government, and our Minister for Women, can do the same.