Organisation of Working Time (Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2019: 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 am sharing time with Deputy Quinlivan as co-sponsor of the legislation.

Domestic violence continues to be under-reported due to stigma, shame and fear. One in five women will experience violence in the home and 41% of women know someone in their circle of family or friends who has experienced intimate partner violence. Domestic violence is mostly spoken about in terms of the home but the reality is the abuse often follows victims into the workplace. Co-workers may be aware of a colleague's abuse but in the absence of workplace policy they may be unsure how best to support their colleagues. 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 sector must introduce domestic violence workplace awareness policies and procedures for management and staff.

As legislators, we have a role in protecting women in the workplace and ensuring that the rights and entitlements of victims, as employees, are enhanced and protected. Our legislation provides for a statutory annual entitlement of up to ten days of domestic violence-related paid lead. This provision would enable victims to take the necessary time off work needed to seek support, find accommodation or attend court in a structured and supported environment. It also addresses unpredictable absenteeism and reduced productivity for employers.

Earlier this year, Vodafone introduced ten days of domestic violence-related paid leave and additional support for its employees globally. New Zealand, Australia and provinces in Canada have all introduced forms of paid leave in this respect. Ireland's ratification of the Istanbul Convention and enactment of supporting legislation were very important landmarks and we must build on these. This Sinn Féin domestic violence-related paid leave Bill does just that and I commend it to the House.

This legislation is an important addition to existing workplace rights. The provision of a statutory entitlement to paid leave is an acknowledgement by legislators of the challenges faced by workers when trying to escape an abusive relationship. If we are to end this epidemic of domestic abuse in Ireland, we need a whole-of-society response that both supports and protects women.

Sinn Féin's legislation provides for up to ten days of paid domestic violence-related leave. An employee does not have to provide proof of abuse or documentary evidence for the leave needed, as to do so would potentially act as a barrier to victims seeking the support they often desperately need. As with existing leave entitlements, the legislation enables an employer to refuse or terminate leave where he or she believes the employee is not using the leave for the specified purpose. In turn, the employee 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 refused by the employer.

Research tells us that abusive partners often do not care a whit about the split between home and work. Stalking, persistent phone calls or threats in the workplace can often occur. Coercive control, now recognised under the Domestic Violence Act, can lead to abusers focusing their efforts on a partner’s workplace for the purpose of ending their employment.

Legislators and employers have a responsibility to respond to this avenue of abuse by putting in place the necessary workplace and employment rights and protections for victims. Sinn Féin will be engaging with all political parties in the coming weeks to seek their support for this legislation. We look forward very much to productive dialogue with all stakeholders to advance this much-needed entitlement.

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.