How does the inclusion of domestic violence leave provisions in early childhood centres’ collective agreements address the problem and terrible impact it has on families, workplaces and society as a whole, Bedrock Journalist Alex Leggett asks.
The union movement has fought hard to establish universal domestic violence leave in all workplaces, including early learning centres, as it is an industrial issue with detrimental, wide ranging effects.
The statistics have reached epidemic levels. Research suggests more than 65% of people who are affected by domestic violence (DV) are in the workforce.
In Australia, approximately one woman is killed by her current or former partner every week, often after a history of domestic and family violence.
Unions have campaigned through their members to establish equality in the workplace by eliminating the scourge of DV, bullying and harassment. DV affects workplaces, not just at a high financial cost, but also through increased absenteeism due to injury, sickness, stress, court attendance and other factors. It can also limit a worker’s ability to perform their work effectively, resulting in poor performance, terminations and resignations.
Early childhood services play an important role in responding to the problem when it comes to work as affected employees are more likely to spend most of their time away from the perpetrator at work. Here they can access support, find out about community services, earn their own money in a secure position so they can provide for themselves and their children, and determine a new path free of DV. There is an onus on employers to continue paid work to DV victims as research has shown it is much cheaper to allow DV victims short periods of leave rather than rehire and retrain new staff.
C&K policies and appropriate leave
Under its Workplace Health and Safety Policy Statement, the Creche and Kindergarten Association Ltd (C&K) states that it is committed to the “health and safety of all people who work or attend our workplaces”. It also mentions C&K’s commitment to “providing return to work programs to facilitate safe and durable return to work for employees, where possible, for both work related and non-work related health conditions”.
The C&K Branch Kindergartens new collective agreement was recently approved by the Fair Work Commission, enhancing many industrial provisions since the last agreement, but the document makes no specific mention of DV or family violence leave.
Since this is a short agreement that was quickly implemented to support a wage increase and back pay for employees, it will expire in June 2016. Though it does not come under the title of Domestic Violence Leave or Family Leave per se, the provision for Paid Personal Leave allows for such things as court appearances, medical appointments, relocating and other tasks associated with people protecting themselves from DV.
With around 97% of C&K’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) workforce being female it is therefore essential for staff to have access to appropriate leave if they are experiencing violence at home. Members in C&K early childhood centres are urged to campaign for this by speaking with their organiser ahead of the next round of bargaining.
According to the National Employment Standards (NES), employees who have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements if they are “experiencing family or domestic violence, or provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who requires care and support because of family or domestic violence.”
Various early childhood centres have single site agreements that provide for personal/carer’s leave or other leave as per the NES. All employees in the national workplace relations system are covered by the NES entitlements regardless of their award, agreement or work contract.
A positive example of employees accessing domestic violence leave at early childhood centres is Borilla Community Kindergarten in Emerald, Queensland.
IEU Member and Director Jenny Finlay said in their recently negotiated agreement last year, employees who are experiencing DV have access to five days per year non cumulative paid special leave. The leave can be taken to address activities including attending medical/counselling appointments, accessing legal advice or attending legal proceedings, sourcing alternative accommodation and alternative education arrangements for their children.
Ms Finlay said employees can also access existing leave entitlements for these purposes without being required to give notice.
“An employee who supports a person experiencing domestic violence may use their existing carer’s leave to accompany the person to related activities or for minding their children for example,” she said.
She encourages other early learning centres and kindergartens to seek similar provisions in negotiating their agreements.
“I would encourage all services to consider this provision when finalising your service agreement,” she said.
“This practical support is one way that the early childhood sector can help remove the stigma and shame that many families encounter when experiencing domestic violence.
“It is crucial for employees to have access to such leave in case of a personal crisis such as experiencing domestic violence,” she said.
Ms Finlay also said she believes that children who witness, have been subject to and are traumatised by DV should be eligible for additional funding.
“Our service has experienced this first hand where children need extensive support and no funding is available anywhere,” she said.
“To truly support young children and families in their recovery from domestic violence this must become a priority.”