Head of Women’s Legal Services Australia, Serina McDuff, said employers had to consider their broader role in promoting gender equality.
“If there is disrespect towards women, unequal pay between men and women, sexual harassment or unequal leadership opportunities in the workplace, then whether women in these workplaces will feel comfortable and able to take up the paid domestic violence leave will be a real issue,” she said.
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has made it his top priority to add paid domestic violence leave to the national employment standards. The legislation would give some 8.5 million workers access to the leave.
The Fair Work Commission in May made a preliminary decision that would have given access to the leave to 2.7 million workers on industry awards, but Burke has asked it to halt that work since the government will create a broader entitlement.
Women’s advocates warn women who start new jobs because they have had to move to flee a violent relationship, or who work part-time, could be disadvantaged if the government’s new paid domestic and family violence leave follows the model set out by the Fair Work Commission.
Under that model, the leave would accrue like annual or sick leave, meaning if someone had only been with an employer for six months they might only have five days of leave. It would be on a pro-rata basis for part-time workers.
Renee Hamilton, chief executive of the National Women’s Safety Alliance, which advises the government, says the Fair Work model is “only partway there” and it was vital that the leave be available when people needed it.
“This is a massive change. We need to get the settings right and we need it to apply to all women regardless of the situation, regardless of how long they have been at their workplace,” she said.
McDuff said women experiencing family violence already had a more disrupted work history, lower incomes and were more likely to be employed on a casual or part-time basis.
“Without this paid leave, women experiencing violence and abuse are just far more likely to fall behind in their careers or enter insecure work,” she said.
Burke is aware of the issues relating to leave accrual and how it would work for part-time employees.
“This is an urgent reform and I want to deliver it soon. But I’m also determined to get it right,” he said.
“I am working through the detail carefully and taking advice from the department.”
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