Keeping domestic violence leave can save lives

  The OFL is fighting to protect and expand paid leave for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, both in laws and in collective agreements.  SUPPLIED

The OFL is fighting to protect and expand paid leave for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, both in laws and in collective agreements. SUPPLIED

“I was facing violence at home, and often late for work, so I was just lucky to have a supportive employer,” said Melisa Kersey. “I was able to leave an abusive situation, and one of the key elements was time away to make arrangements. It’s something that I believe all workers should have access to – paid time off means you don’t have to choose between paying the bills and leaving an abusive situation,” she added.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) saw an opportunity to make Ontario safer for women when the province moved to modernize outdated labour and employment law. After a long campaign, workers won five days of paid leave for domestic and sexual violence survivors. 

Paid leave gives survivors the time they need to seek medical and legal services, or look for new housing, all of which are necessary while leaving an abusive situation, without losing desperately needed income.

Workers in this province will not let these hard-earned protections be eroded. Our province should be expanding the number of paid days available for survivors to 10. However, the new government of Ontario seems more likely to roll back these paid days.

“While five days are an improvement on zero, five days are not nearly enough. The labour movement is sending a message to this government: they need to keep their hands off these important days,” said OFL Secretary-Treasurer Patty Coates. “If we lose paid DV/SV leave, survivors face being driven into poverty or forced to stay in an abusive situation, just because they aren’t able to take time off work.”

One-third of Canadian workers suffer domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime. For more than half of those survivors, the violence follows them to work; 82 per cent of survivors found that the violence negatively affected their work performance, with 37 per cent of them reporting that co-workers were also negatively affected. Many survivors face threats from their partners even when they are in the workplace, including receiving threatening phone calls and being followed. Sadly, some do not survive violent attacks. Nurse Lori Arlene Dupont was tragically stabbed and killed at work in 2005 by a man with whom she had been in a relationship. 

“Domestic violence goes to work every day, and statistics show that women bear the brunt of this violence. Until these shameful attacks stop and every person is free from violence in the home, the labour movement will do all it can to ensure that every woman has time to access resources that can keep her safe,” said Coates.

Across the globe, governments are taking steps to stop domestic violence and sexual violence, and to make it easier for survivors to leave abuse behind, access services they need, and get on with their lives. New Zealand recently implemented 10 days of paid leave to end what their prime minister called their “horrifying” rates of family violence. 

Without paid leave for workers who are suffering domestic or sexual violence, unpaid time away from work may not be an option. A reduction in their pay may compromise their safety, and financial responsibilities can stop them from making changes. 

The labour movement works to ensure that every worker is able to do their work safely, and to that end, the OFL has produced a booklet called “Domestic violence goes to work every day: A bargaining guide,” which provides a template for bargaining added leave in union workplaces, as well as simple guidelines for supporting DV/SV survivors in the workplace.

“Domestic violence is disturbingly common worldwide,” said Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley. “Until there is an end to domestic and sexual violence, the labour movement will continue to advocate for laws that protect everyone, and bargain DV/SV leave into collective agreements.”

This Labour Day, we recommit to making sure that the five days of domestic violence leave won during the Changing Workplaces Review in 2017 remains and that more time is provided for every worker in this province. It is time to end domestic violence in Ontario. 

If we lose paid DV/SV leave, survivors face being driven into poverty or forced to stay in an abusive situation, just because they aren’t able to take time off work.
— Patty Coates, OFL Secretary-Treasurer