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OPINION: Want to alleviate domestic violence? Enact paid leave

Having access to paid domestic violence leave would make it easier for victims to take time away from work to seek and plan to break free from violence. Women have so many other barriers to escaping domestic violence, and fearing for your job shouldn't be another one.
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About 8.5 per cent of respondents to a recent pan-Canadian survey reported losing their job due to circumstances arising from domestic violence, writes Danny Cavanagh. (Wikimedia Commons)

By DANNY CAVANAGH

We just wrapped up another International Women’s Day, and there was much activity this past week across the country.

We were proud to celebrate in Nova Scotia with our second annual women’s day event, where a deserving union sister, Rhonda Doyle LeBlanc, received the sister of the year award from the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour.

We need to recognize that we have much to do, specifically on the epidemic or crisis of domestic violence that is happening in every community. I think the labour movement knows that, and that’s why we continue to push to change laws; that’s our role.

Sadly, domestic violence is often hidden, and we rarely talk about the issue of reducing it, even though efforts to do that are improving and domestic violence isn’t as hidden as it was in the past. Domestic violence, generally, in the past, has not been viewed as a workplace issue, but it must be, and here’s why: People in crisis just don’t leave those abusive situations at home when they head to work each day. Domestic violence continues to occur all too frequently in society, and that abuse is mostly targeted at women.

Domestic violence remains a relentless problem in our society, and that is what prompted the Canadian Labour Congress, in partnership with researchers at Western University, to undertake a first-of-its-kind pan-Canadian survey to shed light on this question: Can work be safe when home is not?

Of course, it’s a fact that employers are bearing some of the financial costs of domestic violence, but that pales in comparison to the immeasurable price being paid by individuals and families caught up in a domestic violence situation. That study told us that one-third of respondents reported experiencing domestic violence at some point, and 80 per cent of these reported negative impacts on their performance at work.

In nearly 40 per cent of cases, victims experienced interference with their ability to show up for work or arrive at work on time. About 8.5 per cent reported losing their job due to circumstances arising from domestic violence. Over half of those who experienced domestic violence faced some form of abuse at or near their workplace.

These findings suggest that we need to put new solutions in place, solutions that recognize that unions and our workplace have an important role to play. We know that women in domestic violence situations have more disrupted work histories, and consequently have lower incomes and change jobs more often. Having a job and a decent income are essential if women are to have the supports required to leave an abusive relationship and maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and their children.

Legislated paid domestic violence leave would make a big difference. A guaranteed leave would mean those women who are faced with living in a situation of domestic violence could take a bit of time off without losing their jobs. Such legislation would mean that those living in such situations can look at ways to escape violent relationships. Having access to paid domestic violence leave would make it easier for victims to take time away from work to seek and plan to break free from violence. Women have so many other barriers to escaping domestic violence, and fearing for your job shouldn't be another one.

Now is the time for political leaders in our province to introduce paid domestic violence leave, because whether we are directly affected or not, everyone is hurt by domestic violence.

It’s 2017, and this should be a no-brainer issue in any legislature in the country.

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

 



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