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Hunter services welcome introduction of paid family and domestic violence leave

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The Hunter’s domestic violence sector has welcomed the federal government’s plan to provide abuse survivors with access to paid leave entitlements.

If passed by parliament, the changes to the Fair Work Act would allow any Australian worker, including casuals, to access 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave.

Newcastle Domestic Violence Committee chairperson Lisa Ronneberg said the introduction of the legislation was “fantastic and a long time coming”.

She said the Australian Services Union started the campaign for the entitlement about a decade ago.

Around 1.3 million employees currently have access to paid family and domestic violence leave, but the legislation will lift this to 11 million.

“We’re seeing a change in awareness and now it’s going to be the usual for all workers, which is extraordinary,” Ms Ronneberg said.

“A lot of people living with domestic and family violence who work often have to make difficult choices, they might need to leave their job because they’re not supported to stay and be able to deal with everything they need to do, attending court, meeting police, going to medical appointments, moving house, counselling, meeting with solicitors, finding new schools.

“There’s a whole range of things they have to do if living with or leaving domestic violence.

“They’re not on holidays, they’re not sick and up until now there’s been no entitlement for you in your workplace to take time to be able to do that.”

The scheme will start in February 2023 for most employees.

Ms Ronneberg said she supported giving small businesses an extra six months to understand their obligations and put appropriate mechanisms and payroll practices in place.

“It needs to be done confidentially, so how do you put it on a work payslip?

“What language and wording do you use?

“You don’t want to advertise they’re taking time off work for domestic violence leave if they’re still in the relationship.

“There’s a whole range of things that need to be implemented… for workplaces now they will be looking at their policies and practices and will have important conversations about this.

“Everyone is more aware of how prevalent it is and understanding it happens to their staff in workplaces and their colleagues.

“With this legislation workplaces will start to look at not just this entitlement but ‘What does this mean for us? How can we better support our employees?'”

Ms Ronneberg said she didn’t expect to see a “huge influx” in people taking the leave, or it being abused.

“People won’t misuse it, that’s not the case now and not what anybody has seen,” she said.

“It’s an entitlement there for when and if you need it.”

Nova for Women and Children chief executive officer Kelly Hansen said the proposed changes were “much fairer legislation”, “much more equitable” and “vital for women”.

“One of the most significant things is it indicates a cultural shift being implemented through legislation,” she said.

“It says that women are being listened to, it’s supporting them to break those concerns women have about reporting and having to take time off.

“It will encourage women if they’re being supported with workplace entitlements to feel safe enough to report.”

Carrie’s Place Maitland chief executive officer Jayne Clowes said the plan was “fantastic” and “a win for the sector”.

“We know this will give employees the time and support and job security they need if they’re going to escape and recover from an abusive relationship,” she said. “We’re thrilled that this has gotten this far.”

Ms Ronneberg said the sector was eagerly awaiting the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, which she said was expected to focus on prevention.

“It needs to be accountable, needs resources and funding attached to it, action attached to it,” she said.

“We’re beyond motherhood statements and talking about things, we need action.”

She said it was “everybody’s responsibility” to call out abusive behaviour, gender stereotypes and inequities.

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This story by Helen Gregory was published in the Newcastle Herald on 29 July. Those with a subscription can view the Newcastle Herald story.

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