Family and domestic violence survivors could soon have access to paid leave entitlements after the federal government unveiled a landmark plan to address the issue.
If passed by parliament, the changes to employment law would allow any Australian worker, including casuals, to access 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave.
The scheme will start from February 2023 for most employees, although small businesses will have an extra six months to adjust to the change.
It is expected to be fully operational in all workplaces by August next year.
The delay is to allow businesses a chance to understand their obligations and have appropriate mechanisms and payroll practices in place to sensitively manage the leave entitlement, Employment Minister Tony Burke said.
“I wish the starting date was years ago rather than next year,” he told parliament on Thursday.
“This bill is a result of the tireless efforts of frontline workers, unions and gender equity advocates who have been campaigning for this entitlement for close to 15 years.”
About 1.3 million employees currently have access to paid family and domestic violence leave, but if passed the legislation would increase that number to 11 million.
Mr Burke said the cost to the economy from not having domestic violence leave entitlements was far greater than allowing more workers to access it.
“Family and domestic violence devastates (the) lives and livelihoods of those who directly experience it, and its damaging impacts reverberate throughout our communities, our workplaces and our national economy,” he said.
“As a nation we can and must do better … workplaces have a key role to play as a source of critical support for people experiencing family and domestic violence.”
Speaking outside Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was critical measures were enacted to address domestic violence.
“Not every sense of grief arises from a declared war but from a conflict that takes place around us every single day,” he said.
“Every day (domestic violence) is insidiously, quietly, relentlessly occurring.”
The proposal has been welcomed by women’s safety advocates.
It is a significant moment for survivors of domestic violence and an opportunity to remember women who have died, Australian Services Union branch secretary Natalie Lang told AAP.
“This entitlement is long overdue and will show women they are valued and their needs are a priority for this government,” she said.
“It will make all the difference to women to be able to leave a violent relationship safely.”
The National Women’s Safety Alliance described the proposal as a game-changer for employment standards.
“Leaving a violent home or relationship is an incredibly dangerous time for a survivor,” NWSA member Leah Dwyer said in a statement.
“The provision of 10 days’ paid leave will help during what is a costly and frightening experience.”
Ms Lang said people underestimate what it takes for someone to leave a violent partner.
She said connecting with a women’s safety service, attending court, accessing counselling, setting up a new bank account and finding somewhere to live takes significant time and money.
Ms Lang said women will often exhaust all other entitlements before accessing domestic violence leave if it is available to them.
“On average it takes 140 hours and $20,000 to leave violence and set up a new life,” she said.
The government is due to release a national plan to end violence against women and children in October.
A standalone action plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family safety to address the specific needs of those communities will also be released.
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