Stark revelations from workplace labour survey on domestic violence

| December 4, 2014
Photo: flickr/Hibr

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has vowed to take action following their release of a sobering study on the impact of domestic violence in the workplace. 

Conducted by Western University's Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) in partnership with the CLC, the study surveyed over 8,000 workers from across Canada about their experience with domestic violence.  

Survey results show that domestic violence is following people to work, has a significant impact on performance, and is in some cases resulting in job loss: 

  • A third (33.6 per cent) of respondents reported that they had at one time experienced domestic violence from an intimate partner

  • Of those who reported that they had experienced domestic violence,  82 per cent said the violence negatively affected their work performance, and

  • 38 per cent indicated that it impacted their ability to get to work, including being late or missing work

  • 8.5 per cent of victims indicated they had lost their job because of domestic violence

  • 53.5 per cent of those reporting domestic violence experiences indicated that at least one type of abusive act occurred at or near the workplace

The study was released as part of Labour's commemorative effort in anticipation of the 25th Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, in which gunman Marc Lépine walked into Montreal's École Polytechnique, shot and killed 14 young women on December 6, 1989.  

"The study is our response to the 25th anniversary to the Montreal Massacre," said Vicky Smallman, Director of the CLC's Womens' and Human Rights Department.

"We know that one of the things the labour movement can do is work to keep women safe at work and we want to recognize that violence that takes place in the home doesn't stay in the home necessarily. The data that we've received clearly shows that."

The Canadian initiative was inspired by a similar study conducted in Australia, the compelling results of which galvanized Australia's labour movement to demand that domestic violence be recognized as a workplace issue.

Now over 1.2 million Australian workers are covered by domestic violence clauses in their collective agreements and work contracts, and benefit from access to leave, protection from adverse action and flexible work arrangements when dealing with domestic violence. 

Maintaining paid work and independence is crucial for people trying to escape the cycle of family violence, yet as the CLC survey shows, it is often difficult for victims to maintain regular workplace performance levels when dealing with intimate abuse.

Currently Ontario is the only Canadian province that legally recognizes domestic abuse as a workplace health and safety issue, making it the employer's responsibility to ensure that victims of domestic violence are safe and supported at work.     

"Now we have to work to actually improve our workplace supports and improve awareness of how significant the issue is as well," said Smallman.

As a first step, the CLC has proposed that a roundtable take place between government, labour and employers to discuss the survey's findings and develop solutions. 

"We'll be redoubling our efforts to negotiate supports -- like paid leave for [victims of] domestic violence -- in collective agreements, and ensuring union representatives are trained to provide the right kind of support in the workplace," said CLC president Hassan Yussuff in a press release. 

"We really want this to be a collaboration," said Smallman, who notes that any imaginable solution will require employers to accommodate victim's needs, such as paid time-off. But she also notes that the survey's results have sent a clear message to unions that more needs to be done. 

"There were some things in it that were not pretty for the labour movement," said Smallman, "We don't see a lot of people who've experienced domestic violence going to their union representatives for help. I would like our members to feel like they can do that." 

The survey results were sent to Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, and she has agreed to meet with the CLC to discuss the issue further. Her office has said that the meeting will likely take place next week. 

Ella Bedard is rabble's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding.

Photo: flickr/Hibr

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