Senate debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022


Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2022; Second Reading

11:30 am

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech r ead as follows—

Every worker in Australia has the right to be safe at work, and safe at home.

No worker should ever have to choose between their safety and their income.

It is unacceptable that millions of workers in Australia still face this impossible choice.

This is why the Government is proud to bring forward the Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2022 which will provide employees with 10 days of paid leave to deal with the impacts of family and domestic violence.

It is not an overstatement to say that this is a workplace entitlement that will save lives.

Family and domestic violence affects people from all walks of life, in every community, in every city, and in every region across this country.

While family and domestic violence affects everyone in our community, it impacts on women most severely. First Nations women, younger women, women with disability, and women in remote and regional areas in particular face acute and significant challenges.

The facts set out by the Fair Work Commission in its recent review are frightening. Since the age of 15, approximately one in four women experienced violence by an intimate partner. First Nations women are 32 times as likely to be hospitalised due to family and domestic violence than non-Indigenous women. On average, one woman is killed by her current or former partner every ten days in Australia. The prevalence of family and domestic violence has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

Unacceptably, rates of family and domestic violence are not declining in Australia. For many women, the most dangerous place in Australia is her home, and this must change.

The Government is putting forward this Bill because as a nation we can and must do better.

An urgent, whole-of-community response is required, and workplaces have a key role to play as a source of critical support for people experiencing family and domestic violence.

Frontline workers have told us that there are two issues at the forefront of the minds of women seeking to escape from violent relationships. First, they are worried about disruption to the lives of their children. Second, they are worried about disruption to their income and employment.

More than 68% of people experiencing family and domestic violence are in paid work. However, many can't leave violent situations without risking joblessness, financial stress, homelessness and poverty, leaving workers having to choose between their safety and their livelihood.

Getting out is hard, really hard. Reporting is hard, really hard—and turning up to court can be another trauma altogether. This Bill makes everything just that bit easier.

Getting out will still be hard. But it will be less likely that getting out makes you unemployed or poor. People in family and domestic violence situations have enough challenges already. This Bill says you will no longer have to ask "can I afford to be safe".

This Bill sends a clear message that family and domestic violence is not just a criminal justice or social issue, but an economic and a workplace issue.

Frontline workers have told us that leaving violent relationships costs time and costs money. People leaving relationships often become sole parents; they have to find a new place to live and new schools for their children. People often leave a relationship with just the clothes on their backs, and have to start from scratch to build a new life. The economic impact on these workers and their families is nothing short of devastating. Paid leave provides the financial support and employment security these individuals so urgently need to help them leave dangerous situations safely and rebuild their lives.

The principle behind this paid leave entitlement is simple—getting out shouldn't mean losing pay. Normally, leave entitlements are at the base rate of pay. But applying the principle that getting out shouldn't mean losing pay requires a different approach.

The new leave entitlement will be paid at the rate people would have received had they not taken leave, not just at their base rate of pay. Once in place, the 10 days' leave will be provided upfront, allowing immediate access to the full entitlement from commencement of employment.

In its review of family and domestic leave, the Fair Work Commission recognised that family and domestic violence erodes women's access to work, career progression and financial independence. By reducing these negative impacts, paid family and domestic violence leave will help to reduce the gender pay gap, support gender equality, and increase women's economic security.

An increasing number of employers—both large and small—are already providing a range of support to their employees experiencing family and domestic violence leave, including access to paid leave. All states and territories now provide their employees with access to paid leave to deal with family and domestic violence. These efforts are to be commended. This Bill will enshrine family and domestic violence leave as a minimum employment standard for all, ensuring that wherever you work and whoever your employer is, you will be guaranteed access to this lifesaving entitlement if you need it.

This entitlement will be enshrined in the National Employment Standards and cover up to 11 million employees. It will be a lifeline when women most need it, allowing workers to take necessary steps to stay safe, while retaining their jobs and their income.

Normally casual employees do not have access to paid leave. But applying the test—"getting out shouldn't mean losing pay"—takes you to a different conclusion.

This Bill provides a paid entitlement to family and domestic violence leave for all employees, including casuals.

There are currently 2.6 million casual employees in Australia.

Family and domestic violence doesn't pick and choose based on whether you are a permanent or casual worker.

Casuals are not spared from family and domestic violence. In fact, women who are experiencing or have experienced family and domestic violence have a more disrupted work history, and are more likely to be employed in casual work, than women with no experience of violence.

Casuals are already dealing with the consequences of being in insecure work and are unable to access other forms of paid leave, making them more vulnerable when they are dealing with the impact of domestic violence.

Under this Bill, casual employees will be paid for rostered shifts, including where a shift has been offered and accepted, providing employers with certainty about the rate of payment for casual employees.

Employees facing family and domestic violence will no longer have to ask—"do I have leave to help me get out?"—the answer for every employee will now be "yes".

There will be no gap for any employees who are not eligible for this paid leave entitlement. Casuals who are not rostered will still be entitled to be absent from work without pay for 10 days per year to deal with the impacts of family and domestic violence, without having to worry about losing their jobs.

Australians are increasingly living in more diverse living situations. First Nations families and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities also have familial responsibilities, households, and relationships that must be captured.

Violence can be and is perpetrated by unrelated people who live in the same household. In a tragic recent example, a woman at the Sunshine Coast was killed, allegedly at the hands of her unrelated housemate.

People increasingly live separately to their intimate partners; young people in particular. The amendments made to the definition of family and domestic violence will ensure that violent or abusive behaviour in intimate relationships—whether or not the partners cohabit—will also be captured, and employees can take paid leave to seek necessary assistance.

Some might suggest that these additions broaden the definition too much. During the two extensive hearings on family and domestic violence leave conducted by the Fair Work Commission, there was no evidence whatsoever of any misuse of paid family and domestic violence leave. This is just not an entitlement that employees rort.

Unless we include intimate partners in this way, we are left with a situation where a person suffering violence or abuse at the hands of an intimate partner needs to move in with their abuser in order to access paid family and domestic violence leave to seek assistance. This would be an absurd outcome.

People experiencing violence in their home or at the hands of an intimate partner should have access to paid leave to escape or deal with such situations, and the changes made to the definition of family and domestic violence will ensure this is the case.

Employers are bearing the significant costs of family and domestic violence leave in the form of reduced productivity caused by absenteeism, recruitment and retraining costs. The costs to the national economy are huge, with estimates ranging between $12.6 and $22 billion per year, with the cost to employers being about $2 billion per year. Paid family and domestic violence will assist to reduce this cost.

The Government recognises that business will need some lead-in time to adjust their payroll systems to ensure this entitlement can be provided confidentially and appropriately to employees. The Government recognises that small businesses face a number of unique challenges. They often have lower cash flow and lack the sophisticated human resources capacity to administer this new leave entitlement and manage associated sensitive issues.

Support for small businesses is essential.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has consulted with business representatives on implementation. To assist business, the entitlement will have a phased commencement, with most businesses having around 6 months from the date of introduction, and small businesses will be afforded an additional 6 months to prepare. We will also be consulting on a package of implementation support measures for small business to assist with rolling out this entitlement.

It is a fair question to ask why the government is providing these lead times for business. Truth is, we wish the starting date was years ago rather than next year. But we need to ensure the entitlement is understood by workers and employers.

We don't want a worker being refused leave simply because the employer didn't understand the new entitlement. We want there to be a chance for business to work through essential principles such as, how to describe this on a payslip without using terms that could make an awful situation worse.

We will work with businesses, large and small, so they will be equipped to have a sensitive conversation with their employee, understand their obligations, and have appropriate mechanisms and payroll practices in place to sensitively manage leave information.

Gender equity, women's safety and women's economic security are at the heart of this Government's agenda.

We are serious about tackling family and domestic violence in Australia. In addition to paid family and domestic violence leave, our commitment includes measures to bring about long-term cultural change to tackle entrenched discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, as well as ensuring supports are in place to help people safely leave abusive situations. We are establishing a new Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commission; investing $77 million in high quality consent and respectful relationships education in schools; and delivering more safe and affordable housing to assist women fleeing violence.

This Bill is an important part of that framework.

The Government might be introducing this Bill—but it didn't start with us. This Bill is the 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. In 2009, a group of experts from the Domestic Violence Clearing House at the University of New South Wales approached the trade union movement in NSW to discuss the possibility of a ground-breaking new paid leave entitlement to help workers impacted by family and domestic violence.

We acknowledge and thank one of those experts, Ludo McFerran, for her vision and her leadership on this issue over the past 15 years. Ludo drafted the first ever paid family and domestic violence clause. That first clause did not get up, but it set in train a nation-wide community and union campaign—a campaign which ends here today with this Bill.

In 2010, the Australian Services Union and the Surf Coast Shire Council in Victoria negotiated a collective agreement providing access to 20 days paid family and domestic violence leave for staff of the Council. As far as we know this was the very first example of this kind of entitlement anywhere in the world. Linda White was the Assistant National Secretary of the Australian Services Union at the time of this ground-breaking achievement, and is now a Labor Senator for Victoria. We acknowledge and thank her for the key role she has played in the development of this life-saving entitlement.

Since the first clause was negotiated in 2010, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and its affiliates, including the Australian Services Union, which represents frontline family and domestic violence workers has led a national campaign to have the entitlement rolled out in more and more workplaces; with the mutual benefits for workers and employers increasingly recognised.

About 1.13 million employees now have access to paid family and domestic violence leave through collective bargaining between workers and employers. This legislation will take the figure from just over 1 million employees, to 11 million employees.

We would like to acknowledge our incredible frontline workforce who strive day-in and day-out to support and assist individuals and families impacted by violence; including our paramedics, doctors, nurses, police officers, community legal centre lawyers, educators and community sector workers.

We acknowledge you and thank you for your commitment to supporting those impacted by family and domestic violence. We respect and value your essential work.

We also acknowledge those in our community who have lost their lives due to family and domestic violence.

We recognise those we've lost, those who've survived, and those who still feel trapped.

This Bill is for you.

You have asked us to do more to help and we are here now getting this done for you.

This Bill will not by itself solve the problem of family and domestic violence; but it does mean no employee in Australia will ever again be forced to make a choice between earning a wage and protecting the safety of themselves and their families.

Debate adjourned.