I rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2022. During the last sitting of parliament, a vigil was held outside Parliament House by women's safety advocates to mark the day that a workplace right for domestic violence victims moved closer to becoming law. Tulips were laid in memory of those who had lost their lives to family violence. I know that many members of this House attended the vigil; it was very well attended. Later that day, as the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations introduced this legislation for 10 days of paid leave for victims of family violence, advocates stood and clapped.
This has been a long, long journey for so many Australians, so many touched by the scourge that is domestic and family violence. We know that there is no single answer to overcoming domestic and family violence, but we also know that family and domestic violence is preventable. We know the policy response needs to be multifaceted. It must come from strong leadership by government; from business—especially from business; from the unions who do so much to make our workplaces better; and, most importantly, from the community and from individuals. It is only fitting that an Albanese Labor government showed leadership by making this bill one of the first pieces of legislation tabled in the first sitting week of the 47th Parliament.
Currently, more than a third of Australian workers already have access to paid domestic violence leave, but making the entitlement a universal one will save lives. Anyone who works with victims and survivors of domestic and family violence will tell you that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she's leaving a violent relationship. It often takes a very long time to get to that breaking point where a woman leaves. Domestic violence is about control, and perpetrators go to extreme lengths to ensure that their victims do not have the physical and financial freedom to leave the violent relationship. Without paid leave, it can be harder for women to flee unsafe relationships. Those who flee have to be able to attend court, a complicated process; they have to find somewhere to live; and, often, they may need to find a new school for their already distraught children. A woman's right to safety cannot be dependent on who her employer is. Women need to be given the means to leave safely while knowing that their employment is secure.
This bill will enshrine 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave as a workplace right for nearly every worker in Australia. This bill will make sure that paid family and domestic violence leave is included in the National Employment Standards, an historic reform that will help support all people, but mostly women, who are escaping abusive relationships. While family violence certainly touches the lives of many Australians, the evidence and the statistics are that women are disproportionately impacted. They are also disproportionately overrepresented in lower paid, casual and insecure jobs.
We know that family and domestic violence devastates the lives and livelihoods of those who directly experience it. For victims of family and domestic violence, their workplace can be a source of much-needed support. But it can also be a place where the perpetrator of the violence can readily target them. The University of New South Wales has reported that 19 per cent of Australian employees experiencing domestic violence reported harassment at their place of work—a place where they are known to be. Just imagine the awful dilemma for somebody who has finally taken the very serious and dangerous step of leaving a violent relationship—knowing that, the very next working day, the perpetrator of that violence will know exactly where they are, at what site and inside what hours. Not only that, but the perpetrator will know when they will be leaving that place of work.
That is putting a vulnerable victim into an even more vulnerable and dangerous position. If victims of domestic violence don't have access to paid family and domestic violence leave, they won't have the option of not going to work to avoid their perpetrator, and they won't have the ability to take immediate action to have a protection order put in place through the courts to stop the perpetrator from coming to their place of work to harass or threaten them.
What a difference it will make to the victim's ability to safely leave that relationship if they know that the next day they will not be in a place where their perpetrator will be able to find them and attempt to control them and put them back into their orbit. They will be able to take immediate action to put in place a protection order so that the perpetrator will not be able to go to their place of work or the place where they'll be residing, hopefully safely. These are important but simple things to put in place. To a woman leaving a violent relationship, it can be the difference between life and death. It is that serious. This legislation would make leaving a violent relationship a little bit easier. While getting out will still be very hard, this bill will hopefully mean that now there is less of a chance of someone losing their job and their financial security
This bill sends a clear message that family and domestic violence is not just a criminal justice or social issue but a workplace and economic issue. This bill is a crucial step in combating this crisis and making sure that those experiencing family and domestic violence are financially secure enough to address these challenges. This bill will provide a new workplace right that will more than likely save lives.
Earlier this year, the Australian Council of Trade Unions made submissions to the Fair Work Commission's review into the current model, which provided workers with five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. The Australian union movement was advocating for a variation that would entitle employees to 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave. At those hearings, experts from the health, legal and community sectors called for urgent policy changes on behalf of those experiencing family and domestic violence—an issue that has seen a 62 per cent increase in people accessing domestic violence services since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Fair Work Commission hearings also heard from frontline workers. Frontline workers gave evidence at hearing after hearing about the absolute necessity of paid family and domestic violence leave, explaining its importance to accessing critical medical, legal, financial, emergency housing, safety planning, relocation and counselling services. Introducing a scheme that provides 2.23 million award-dependent workers with 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave will give those who are vulnerable to violence at home access to the crucial resources they need to stay employed, to stay housed and to stay healthy.
Family and domestic violence has far-reaching adverse implications for the victims, including disrupting their working life and lowering their ability to earn a permanent wage in a well-remunerated job. Then those ripples go out through families and communities. It is for that reason that it's important to legislate for an appropriate amount of paid domestic and family violence leave to be available to all employees and not just to hope that it will be negotiated into workplace agreements. The women who need this leave the most will not be in a position to effectively bargain.
It is important to recognise that this bill is possible because of the hundreds of thousands of union members, community advocates and activists who stood up and demanded that the government act. This bill comes after more than a decade of tireless campaigning by the union movement, activists and community advocates which saw them win the inclusion of 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave in collective agreements and then modern awards in May of this year.
On average, it can cost up to $18,000 to flee a violent home environment—money that should be spent on kids and on keeping a roof over the head. We know that economic security is the primary factor that determines if someone subjected to family and domestic violence remains in, escapes from or returns to a dangerous relationship. What's more, the cost of this leave to employers is very low, adding only 0.04c per hour worked. We know that employers already providing 10 days paid family and domestic leave—through union-won collective agreements and also modern award variations—are more likely to see greater retention of staff and higher levels of productivity. Their employees are able to take paid leave to overcome serious challenges at home should they arise, and let's hope they never do.
One in six women experience domestic and family violence, which extends beyond physical violence and can include emotional abuse, coercion and financial control. This is something that can happen to anyone in any suburb, in any job or at any stage of their life. The paid leave will be a game changer for working women, who are disproportionately affected by family and domestic violence. Paid leave will be a game changer especially for those who report concern about job security and finances as a major barrier preventing them from fleeing violence. As I mentioned earlier, the average cost to flee is around $18,000. So paid leave is crucial to give impacted workers the time and resources they need.
The ACTU president, Michele O'Neil, has said:
Addressing family and domestic violence is key for closing the gender pay gap as women who experience violence are more likely to fall behind in their career into low-paid and casual work, or out of the workforce entirely.
The former government refused to support paid family and domestic violence leave. This is despite women earning less, having less super, facing harassment at work, and being more likely to be victims of family and domestic violence. These issues worsened during the pandemic, with domestic violence figures surging and sexual assault figures nearly doubling between 2020 and 2021. Working women already have to rely on annual and personal leave to cover time off for things like looking after children, parents and relatives, and for a range of other reasons. They shouldn't have to factor in the financial consequences of taking unpaid leave in order to be safe.
It costs to leave; it's that simple. These costs include setting up new electricity, water and gas accounts, child care, rent, moving fees—all of those things. A new school means a new uniform, new books and all of those sorts of things. And it takes time—time searching for properties, packing belongings, attending complicated court hearings, talking to counsellors and teachers, and making new childcare arrangements. The hidden toll exceeds 10 days of paid leave, but it's the bare minimum to make sure that women—or men; I do recognise that men could be in that same situation—aren't further disadvantaged when they're escaping a dangerous situation. In a country where one woman is murdered by a partner or family member every week, it is indisputable that paid leave could save lives.
Across the world, family and domestic violence leave is increasingly being discussed and advocated in the context of government and workplace responses to family and domestic violence. While many workplaces are introducing these entitlements into their agreements, only a handful of countries around the world have so far actually legislated for the provision of family domestic violence leave.
Interestingly, the first country to legislate for domestic violence leave was the Philippines, back in 2004. The Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act 2004 provides for victims of family and domestic violence to take up to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave. Italy's Jobs Act 2016 provides for employees to take a maximum of three months paid family and domestic violence leave. And, I hate to say it, but even New Zealand in 2018 legislated an entitlement for all employees to take up to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave, in addition to existing sick and holiday leave entitlements. Canada introduced domestic leave in 2019, and most Canadian provinces have also independently legislated for family and domestic violence leave. It's not yet legislated in the US, but the Biden administration has made a commitment to it. So Australia is now one of the leading countries to recognise this important workers' entitlement.
I do thank all of the people that have advocated tirelessly for this. The actions and advocacy of unions are never for the advancement of the individual alone. Unions act to make changes that benefit everyone. I want to point that out, because some people in this building seem to have a fear of unions. Maybe they've never sat down with unions and seen the great changes that they've brought to society.
Access to paid family and domestic violence leave saves lives. It saves lives. No worker should ever have to choose between their income and their safety, or the safety of their children. As we welcome in these new rights, it's important that we also commemorate all the lives lost—I won't go through those names, but we all know some of those names—and the people impacted in Australia by family and domestic violence. I commend the legislation to the chamber.