Organisation of Working Time (Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for a period of paid leave as a consequence of domestic violence and for that purpose to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, to extend as a consequence the protection against unfair dismissals conferred by the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2015 and to provide for the consequential amendment of certain other enactments, and to provide for related matters.

I wish to share my time with Deputy McDonald.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak on the Bill this afternoon, a Cheann Comhairle. I know that behind almost everything that we do here, there are very good intentions. However, I feel that this Bill, which we in Sinn Féin have brought forward here today, is incredibly important legislation. Quite simply, the Bill seeks to provide for a period of paid leave for people who are the victims of domestic violence. This legislation is an important addition to existing workplace rights. The provision of a statutory entitlement to paid leave is an acknowledgment by legislators of the challenges workers face when trying to escape an abusive relationship. If we are to end the epidemic of domestic abuse in this State, we need a whole-of-society response that both supports and protects women.

Sinn Féin's legislation provides for up to ten days' paid domestic violence leave. Importantly, workers do not have to provide proof of their abuse or documentary evidence for the leave needed, as to do so would potentially act as a barrier to victims seeking the support they need. As with existing leave entitlements, the legislation enables an employer to refuse or terminate the leave where she or he believes the worker is not using the leave for the specified purpose. I want to be clear: business has nothing to fear from this leave. This would be done in a very organised way to ensure that the benefit accrues to the worker. It is not in any way anti-business. In turn, the worker has recourse to the Workplace Relations Commission in such circumstances where the leave has been taken for the specified purpose but has been terminated or, indeed, refused by the employer.

Research tells us that abusive partners do not care one little bit about the split between home and work. These abusers deploy a variety of methods to harass, intimidate and hurt their victims. We have seen and heard of situations where stalking, persistent telephone calls or threats occur in the workplace. Coercive control, which is now recognised under the Domestic Violence Act, can lead to abusers focusing their efforts on a partner's workplace for the purpose of getting them sacked.

Legislators and employers have a responsibility to respond to this avenue of abuse by putting in place the necessary workplace and employment rights protection for victims. I know much-needed statements on domestic violence will be taken on Thursday. Along with talking about it and recognising the problem of domestic violence, we need progressive action and positive solutions, which is what Sinn Féin is trying to do.

Covid-19 has heightened awareness of the depth and breadth of domestic violence and abuse. Every day during the first six months of the pandemic, 19 women and three children contacted a domestic violence service for the first time, seeking support and safety from abuse and coercive control. Coercive control is now a crime and last month's landmark judgment sends a simple message to abusers to stop. However, despite the significant increase in demand for services, this year domestic violence and abuse continues to be under-reported due to stigma, shame and fear. One in five women will experience violence in their own home and 41% of Irish women know someone in their circle of family or friends who has experienced intimate partner violence.

Domestic violence is mostly talked about as occurring in the home, but in reality the abuse often follows victims into the workplace. Co-workers may be aware of a colleague's abuse, but in the absence of a workplace policy they are unsure of how best to support them. Managers need guidance on how to recognise the signs of domestic abuse and how to respond to a staff member's disclosure. Employers in the public and private sectors must introduce domestic violence awareness policies and procedures for managers and staff. As legislators, we also have a role in protecting women in the workplace and ensuring victims' rights and entitlements as employees are enhanced and protected.

Our legislation provides for a statutory annual entitlement of up to ten days' domestic violence paid leave. This provision would enable victims to take the time they need to seek support, find accommodation or attend court in a structured and supported environment. It also addresses unpredictable absenteeism and reduced productivity for employers.

Last year Vodafone introduced ten days' domestic violence paid leave and additional supports for its employees globally. New Zealand, Australia and provinces of Canada have all introduced forms of paid leave. Our ratification of the Istanbul Convention and enactment of supporting legislation means that we now need to follow suit.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.