Workplace is key to ending family violence



The number of high profile cases of family violence in Victoria over the past few months has put the issue on the front of newspapers, and at the front of our minds, once again.

This is on top of an alarming trend of more incidents being reported every year. It is hard to judge whether this reflects better reporting or a worsening problem. Our hope is that it is the former.

The only silver lining is that the issue is less hidden than it was a decade ago. Our community is increasingly united in saying no to family violence.

Schools and sporting clubs are getting better at teaching our children about the importance of respect for women.

Better policing and improved legislation has increased women’s confidence to report and seek help.

Yet most workplaces are still silent on the issue. Formal family violence support is far too rare amongst employers.

The reality is that escaping a violent relationship can be not only dangerous, traumatic and isolating – it costs victims time and money.

And employers have an important role to play, in ensuring that victims are not further burdened with work pressures, forgone income, or worse, the loss of their job.

We must take a sensitive approach and make those affected feel confident and supported at work.

No one should be made to feel shame for asking for help. Gone are the antiquated days where a person should need to make excuses for taking time off.

It’s so important that those impacted by these crimes are able to maintain financial independence.  It is critical for finding a new home and if necessary, for relocating children in to new schools.

Today we stand behind victims of family violence in calling for greater workplace support for those affected.

Only a handful of Australian employers – including NAB, Westpac, Coles, Public Transport Victoria and the City of Greater Geelong – have so far introduced formal domestic violence support policies.

Victims are using provisions to varying degrees – from taking the day off to attend court, to taking extended leave to start a new life, in a new home, with their children.

Some are also accessing free counselling, and if needed, making a change to their work location.

The organisations who have pioneered these policies are not only helping women who work for them, they are driving change.

If more formal mechanisms become commonplace, it will further change the dynamic. It will further legitimise the issue.

They are easing the burden by taking away the need for victims to have to justify time taken to seek medical assistance or to attend court appearances.

They are safeguarding against prejudice – a clear expectation on managers that they acknowledge what victims are facing at home.

A clear expectation to help them through difficult times in both a practical and emotional sense. A clear expectation that ignorance is not acceptable.

As a community we can not leave it up to the justice system and social services to bring about change.

The business community needs to show leadership. Workplaces need to start talking about the issue.

We need to saturate people with messages against violence where they live, play and work.

But it’s not just a moral argument.

For a significant number of Australian workers, family violence affects their attendance and performance at work.

It also costs Australian workplaces and businesses in loss of productivity, attendance and turn over.

Deloitte Access Economics puts the costs to employers of violence against women and their children at $235 million by 2021-22, due to loss of productivity and turnover.

Organisations which protect their people are not just doing the right thing, they are a crucial part of the solution.

We are all faced with the choice to take action, to recognise what we can do, or to bury our heads in the sand.

Fiona McCormack, CEO Domestic Violence Victoria and Michaela Healey, NAB Group Executive.



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