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Education and Employment Legislation Committee

ISMAIL, Ms Sophie, Legal and Industrial Officer, Australian Council of Trade Unions

LANG, Ms Natalie, Secretary, New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory Branch, Australian Services Union

PARKER, Ms Samantha, Workplace Delegate, New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory Branch, Australian Services Union

WHITE, Ms Linda, Assistant National Secretary, Australian Services Union

WISCHER, Ms Kristen, Federal Industrial Officer, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation

Evidence from Ms Wischer was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Welcome. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you all. I'd like to invite those of you who wish to to make an opening statement, and then we will ask you some questions. Who's going to put their hand up to be first?

Ms White : I think I've drawn the short straw! Thanks for the opportunity to appear before you today. ASU members have been leading the campaign for universally available paid domestic violence leave for many years. We were the first union in the country to successfully bargain for paid domestic violence leave at Victoria's Surf Coast Shire Council in 2010. Since then, we have built a national campaign to see that every Australian worker has access to paid domestic violence leave if and when they need it.

I have with me today Natalie Lang, the secretary of our New South Wales and ACT services branch, and Samantha Parker, an ASU member who is a frontline domestic violence support worker who supports people who are living in violent relationships day in and day out and who we are very honoured has taken the time to share her experiences with you today.

Domestic violence is a serious and widespread problem in Australia. We need urgent action from state and federal governments to reduce and eliminate the incidence of domestic violence in Australia and support the people who are experiencing it to be safe. The ASU's position on this proposed legislation is straightforward. We welcome the government's acknowledgment that domestic violence is a problem that requires a work based solution. However, we are strongly of the view that workers trying to leave a violent relationship cannot afford to take unpaid leave, and therefore all workers should have access to at least ten days of paid family violence leave if they need it.

International and Australian research set out in our submission demonstrates that up to 70 per cent of women living in a violent relationship are in the workforce, that a person with a job is far more likely to leave a violent relationship and that leaving a violent relationship is expensive and time-consuming. This is why workers living in a violent relationship need to keep their jobs and not lose pay while they do the things they need to do to make themselves and their children safe.

Women living with violence need to work for many reasons. Women who are working are more able to cope. Often, being able to go to work allows them the only time of the day when they know that they are safe. It also allows them to talk with other people, to be told that they don't have to continue to live with violence and to find help to escape. Many women resign or are terminated from their jobs because they need to take time off work to deal with injuries to themselves and their children or to attend appointments with counsellors, police, real estate agents et cetera or because the perpetrator of violence will not allow them to leave the house. If a woman living with violence leaves her job, it is much harder for her to find help or to leave that violence. Equally, where women are forced to choose between the financial security of their paid employment and undertaking the activities associated with making safe arrangements for themselves and their children, such as attending AVO and court related matters, they are often unable to attend these vital, life-saving appointments.

Like everything in life, it's much easier to survive and to escape violence if you have time and money. This is why we say this legislation should be amended to ensure that all workers in Australia have access to ten days of paid domestic violence leave if they need it. Sam Parker will now share some of her experiences and then Natalie Lang will also give you some insights from our members.

Ms Parker : Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I have a Bachelor of Social Science and specialist qualifications in trauma case management. I have worked in domestic violence and family case management since 1996. Most of this work has involved working with women who have experienced complex trauma as a result of domestic violence. I currently work at a women's domestic violence court advocacy service in Western Sydney. The service is funded through legal aid in New South Wales. I have worked in this service for seven years. The police area command in which I work has one of the highest rates of reported domestic violence in the state.

I am responsible for contacting women who have been assisted by police when there is a domestic violence incident to assess safety and provide information and support. I also attend two local courts on apprehended domestic violence order list days, where I assist the women who are attending court. Based upon my own experience and that of my colleagues, I strongly believe that there should be 10 days paid domestic violence leave legislated in the National Employment Standards. Women in paid employment often express concern regarding taking leave from work to attend court, particularly if they're required to attend on more than one occasion. They may have already taken leave from their employment immediately after the initial domestic violence incident in order to seek safe alternative accommodation, seek medical assistance or attend appointments to access income support through Centrelink.

Women and their children experience trauma as a result of the domestic violence and can feel overwhelmed by these tasks. This can be compounded by the pressure to return to work versus the need to attend court. Paid employment offers women a chance to secure long-term security for their family, and they are often reluctant to jeopardise their employment by taking further leave. Paid domestic violence leave offers women the opportunity to attend court and benefit from accessing assistance on court days from police and WDVCAS workers. There are thousands of examples that I could provide, but I would like to take the opportunity to compare the circumstances of two of the women who I have worked with which I believe highlight the issues that women face when they are unable to access paid domestic violence leave compared to the benefits that they experience if they can.

The woman who I'm thinking of is in her early 50s and had been working for a company for over 20 years. She proudly told me that she'd won an award for being the second best sales person in the state. She loved her job. It was a part of her identity and, with the income that it provided, she was able to purchase a modest home by herself. And then one day she met a man who appeared quite charming. Over time, while in that relationship, he became abusive. Ultimately, she made a decision to leave the relationship. As a result, he started to stalk her and harass her and then started making threats towards her, and she was very afraid. She spoke with police, and they also were concerned about her safety and made an application for an AVO for her protection. He breached that order by hiding behind her car that was parked in the work car place, so after work one day she left the store and walked towards the car and he appeared and she was terrified, so she fled. He took chase, and she ran back into the store and was seeking assistance from her managers. The next day, she was called into a meeting and it was explained to her that her employment would be terminated simply because they perceived her personal life as interfering with her work life. As a result of losing her job, she had to sell her home, essentially became homeless and then had to live with a relative. When I spoke with her, she said she had lost everything as a result of the domestic violence.

Another woman I spoke with at the same court was assaulted in her home, and she contacted police, who attended immediately. He had left and they were unable to locate him. The police were really concerned about her safety, so they made an application for an AVO but they also made arrangements for her and her children to stay at a refuge. Because of the shortage of refuge accommodation, she had to stay in a refuge that was a considerable distance from her home. Her workplace offered paid domestic violence leave, so she was able to contact her employers and let them know what happened. They were very supportive and understood that she needed to be in this refuge for her safety. There was no expectation that she would return to work immediately, and she was paid. She felt really heartened that not only did she have the support of police but also she had the support of refuge workers and she had the support of her employers.

Paid domestic violence leave allows women the opportunity to access the necessary assistance required when they have experienced domestic violence. It allows them the benefit of attending court and being provided with the necessary information regarding their court matter and referrals to other services for ongoing support, which is crucial. This assistance is crucial in keeping women and their children safe from ongoing domestic violence. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Ms Lang : I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to give evidence this morning. I am the state secretary of the ASU New South Wales and ACT services branch. Of particular relevance to the work of this committee is that the ASU in my state is in the unique position of representing workers in almost every non-government organisation in New South Wales that has any level of responsibility for provision of services to people who are living with domestic and family violence. Those services include, but are not limited to, women's health centres; women's, men's, youth and family refuges; domestic violence court advocacy services; domestic violence and sexual assault counsellors and services; youth workers; domestic violence housing services; elder abuse hotline and related services for older people; migrant resource services; alcohol and other drug services; homelessness services; and mental health services, including suicide and other crisis services. Our members include the highly skilled and professional workers at the Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services, in which Sam and her colleagues work. Every one of these services plays an essential and indeed potentially life-saving role in the network of services that may be accessed by women, children and men who are living with and leaving violence.

It is our submission that access to domestic violence leave must be legislated as a universal entitlement for all workers in the National Employment Standards but that it should also be a minimum of 10 days that must be paid leave. For many years, the Australian Services Union has campaigned as part of the Australian union movement to win a universal entitlement to paid domestic violence leave. We therefore welcome the government's decision to legislate for a universal entitlement to five days unpaid domestic violence leave. However—on the basis of strong local and international research and, most importantly, the expert advice and experience of our members, who, like Sam, work every day to assist women to leave violence and establish themselves and their children safely in the community—we continue to call for legislated universal entitlement to 10 days of paid domestic and family violence leave.

In particular, I refer to the research by Dr Jim Stanford at the Australia Institute, which we have referred to in our submissions. The Australia Institute analysis found that the increase in wage payouts would, in fact, be equivalent to less than one-50th of one per cent of existing payrolls. This means that the cost of paid domestic violence leave being introduced in the National Employment Standards would be approximately 5c per worker per day. Against this, PricewaterhouseCoopers research has found that violence against women and their children costs Australia $21.7 billion a year. Dr Stanford's comprehensive work demonstrates unequivocally that, far from causing the economic sky to fall in, the cost to employers of provision of 10 days paid domestic violence leave would be largely or completely offset by reduced staff turnover and improved productivity.

The cost to employers of 10 days paid leave would be negligible, but the value to women, men and children living with and escaping family violence would be lifesaving. Practitioners working on the front line to support these living with, leaving and recovering from family violence know what it takes to leave. The activities and undertakings associated with leaving violence are plentiful, and almost all are during business hours. The expense of leaving and finding safe accommodation arrangements for children and the cost of appointments and services can also be daunting for anyone, let alone for someone whose income may be precarious. Frontline workers know what it takes to leave. It takes time and money.

In Australia, we are a civil society. In a civil society, we build our systems to protect and support our most vulnerable. By amending the bill to extend it to 10 days paid leave, we can provide real support and financial security to women leaving violence. Indeed, it could save lives.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Ms Ismail : Good morning. The ACTU welcomes this inquiry and the opportunity to comment. As my colleagues have said, this is a reform whose time is long overdue now. The merit case for this reform has been well and truly made out, and this bill represents an opportunity that should not be missed by this government to make this reform and bring 10 days paid domestic violence leave into Australian law.

We've made written submissions, and I don't want to read them out, but I did want to make comment on two of the arguments put forward by the employer party, the Australian Industry Group, who opposes the introduction of 10 days paid leave. The first is that the merit case for the introduction of 10 days paid leave was an argument rejected by the Fair Work Commission. I want to provide some context around that statement. This bill follows an application by the Australian Council of Trade Unions to the Fair Work Commission to vary modern awards to introduce 10 days paid domestic violence leave. The Fair Work Commission is a statutory body. It's confined in its actions by the terms of the Fair Work Act. We say those terms are overly and unreasonably constricting and, as a result of the problems with the rules, our claim wasn't able to be granted.

However, if you read the decision and the evidence that was put forward by the ACTU—we called a number of experts, community sector workers and survivors of family and domestic violence to explain to the commission how this is a workplace issue, why current entitlements are not adequate to support people subjected to family and domestic violence and how crucial both job security and financial security are to recovery, and all of those propositions were accepted by the Fair Work Commission. The Fair Work Commission accepted that this is a significant community issue, that it's an issue that impacts on the workplace, that it requires a special workplace response, that the current safety net entitlements are not adequate and that paid leave is a desirable outcome for people subjected to family and domestic violence. In our view, the commission had no choice but to make the decision it made. The government is under no such constraints. It does not have to meet any statutory test, and we say there is absolutely no good reason not to bring this reform in and many compelling reasons to bring it in.

I also wanted to make a comment on cost and uptake. That's the second point made by the employer parties—that the cost will be overwhelming and that the evidence showed that only two or three days were taken. That's an overstatement of the evidence. At the time this case was run, there was very little evidence in terms of the availability of the entitlement and the take-up rates at that time. The two- to three-day average claim made by the employers is based on the experience of Telstra at the time—one employer—and a survey, and it misstates the results of the survey. That's pointed out by the Fair Work Commission in the decision. The commission doesn't accept that two to three days is correct. What the survey said is that it's two to three days per incident. In terms of the most recent evidence, which is mentioned in our submission and has been mentioned by my colleagues, the Australia Institute report—we've got copies to hand up to the committee, and it's referenced in our submission—talks about an average of just under eight days taken.

So there are two aspects to uptake: the first is the number of employees that are going to access this leave, and the second is how many days they're going to take per occasion or per year. We have consistently said, and we said during the case, that all the available evidence, even though it wasn't much at the time, is that this is a serious social issue which affects a minority of the population, and the number of people in any workplace who are likely to request this leave is small. That has been borne out by the evidence subsequently. There's been evidence from the Victorian government, who's had 20 days leave for some time now, and from Western Australia and others which shows that, indeed, it is only a small number of employees seeking to access this leave. So we can confidently say that costs are going to be manageable.

The second aspect of uptake is the amount of leave that people are taking per occasion. The most recent credible evidence is that people will take up to eight days on average. That is an average, and it varies. Family violence is an extremely unpredictable experience, as people at this table know much better than I do, and it will vary from occasion to occasion. But the standard of ten days has developed over many years now. It's developed as a result of the input of experts, and it's developed as a result of negotiations at the workplace between employers and employees. We think there is a compelling case and substantial evidence in favour of a minimum of ten days paid leave as part of the national employment safety net. Thank you.

Ms Wischer : Thank you for the invitation and opportunity to present today. I do want to add that I've read the submissions of the ACTU and the ASU and want to add that the ANMF supports the contents and contentions of those submissions. Just elaborating on our brief submission, I wanted to add that the ANMF has approximately 275,000 members, which makes it the largest union in Australia. Its membership consists of nurses, midwives and personal care workers, who work across a broad range of employers including public hospitals, private hospitals, aged care, community health centres, medical practices and many other settings throughout the country—in cities and regional and remote locations. It is definitely a very diverse membership but is distinguished by being predominantly female. Approximately 90 per cent of the total membership of the ANMF is female, and in the component of midwives it's 99 per cent women. So this matter is of particular importance to our members.

Research indicates that nearly a quarter of women will have experienced family and domestic violence at the hand of an intimate partner at some time since the age of 15, so it's not unrealistic to transpose that to our membership. Horrifyingly, that would appear to suggest that approximately 60,000 of our members would have had some experience of family and domestic violence. There is also recent Australian research, entitled 'It happens to clinicians too', that indicates that the prevalence of family and domestic violence may in fact be higher than the average population for health practitioners. They found that, of the nurses and midwives that they surveyed in a large maternity hospital, nearly a third had experienced family and domestic violence at some point since the age of 16 at the hand of an intimate partner. So we know, obviously, that there is an effect there.

The other aspect for our membership is that nurses, midwives and personal carers are also likely to be exposed to the effects of violence in their professional roles. They will often be the first contact or receive disclosures due to their roles in caring for members of the community. They therefore play a key role in initiating the first steps of leaving a violent relationship and may be sources of education, referral, treatment and support for those people. For that reason, members of the ANMF recognise that providing support to women experiencing domestic violence will have an overall benefit to their health and wellbeing, which of course then has an impact on the use of resources and health costs. Key to that support is assisting women in staying in paid employment.

Touching on what has just been raised, the ANMF's membership is largely covered by public- or private-sector enterprise agreements. It is the ANMF's standard claim to seek 20 days paid leave, and this has been successful in the Victorian and ACT public sector agreements. In Victoria, for example, both public sector agreements, which is hospitals and mental health nurses agreements, provide 20 days paid leave. These agreements have operated since December 2016 and April 2017 respectively. While it's fair to say it's early in the operation of those clauses in those agreements, it appears from the Victorian branch experience that the uptake of the leave has been very low, meaning that the cost of the leave is extremely minimal for employers. Interestingly, however, the amount of leave taken has been at the higher end available, due to the extent of the issues that need to be dealt with when leaving an abusive relationship.

I think it's also worth pointing out, again from the Victorian experience, that since that 20 days paid leave has been in the public sector agreement, it has had a benchmarking and knock-on effect in private sector negotiations. I don't have the exact figures on this, but the estimate is that approximately 80 per cent of private sector agreements negotiated since the public sector agreement have included paid leave, generally within a range of around 10 days. I think it's also worth noting that, where an agreement has had the paid family and domestic violence leave included and then a subsequent round of negotiation has occurred, there has been no evidence of employers seeking to reduce or remove the entitlement to paid leave. Despite that progress, there are still many agreements that don't provide for the leave, and a small percentage of our membership does remain under award and NES dependent. The ANMF agrees that the NES should provide an appropriate and minimum safety net. The bill provides for five days unpaid leave. We maintain that the provision of five days unpaid leave does not provide the optimal safety net, because the leave is unpaid and, in many instances, will not be sufficient leave to meet the many matters that a person leaving a violent relationship faces or, indeed, experiences in the lead-up to leaving or subsequent to leaving.

Others have touched on the many things that need to be dealt with, including finding safe accommodation, attending court, medical appointments and immediate medical needs. I thought it would possibly be worth mentioning—and I think this is particular not only to our membership but also to many other workers—that some of those things are particularly compounded if you're a shift worker, especially those who are working at night and on weekends, where it may often be in fact that the abusive partner has been the person depended upon for child care, allowing a woman to basically be at home during the week for children and then fitting in working hours at night and on weekends. In the process of leaving that partner, a woman is then particularly stuck because conventional childcare is not available at night or on weekends. Paying babysitters is exorbitant and often not possible. At that point in time, for a woman seeking to find alternative arrangements to allow her to get back to work, it can often be quite difficult and very dependent on having friends or family that can take on a really considerable babysitting and childcare role. For that reason, the length of time to establish that may well be more than five days. The Victorian government have introduced 20 days paid leave across the public sector. Their submission suggests that the range taken across a number of departments was between over five days and over 11 days.

The ANMF believes the primary and crucial issue is providing paid leave. There is an immediate need for income to meet basic needs and the cost of accommodation, child care and fees and expenses associated with accessing services. Women may have been subjected to financial abuse and not have access to money, or may have accounts emptied by an abusive partner. At the time when urgent action needs to be taken, loss of income may simply not be viable, particularly for women in already precarious circumstances. In the longer term, paid leave provides ongoing security and preserves other forms of paid leave. Paid leave also acknowledges that family and domestic violence is largely gender-based violence and occurs in the context of a power imbalance. Women already bear the greater burden of the effects of family and domestic violence. They are likely to remain the primary carer of children and to be in more insecure employment, often because of the effects of the violence. Requiring women to choose between loss of income to access—

CHAIR: How long have you got to go? I'm just conscious of time. I'm sure that my colleague has some questions for you and I have some questions.

Ms Wischer : I can finish in less than a minute, if that.

CHAIR: Okay, go ahead.

Ms Wischer : The ANMF wants the NES to provide a minimum employment standard that genuinely achieves the purpose of supporting people experiencing the effects of violence, is greater than five days and is paid. Thank you.

CHAIR: Great. Thank you very much. Sorry to interrupt. I was conscious of the time and we do have some questions. I'll start with a few and then I'll hand over to Senator Waters. Perhaps this is for Ms Ismail and Ms White. You talked a little bit about this, Ms Ismail. Obviously, the Fair Work Commission is an independent authority. It's an organ of government set up by the previous Labor government with the support of the union movement—I'm pretty sure that's fair to say. Could you talk us through the process? Was it an extensive consultation process?

Ms Ismail : Yes. Test cases generally are extensive policymaking processes. They're unique in the Australian context. There's nothing quite like them. It requires a variation to an award to be supported by appropriate evidence. The provisions of the Fair Work Act and predecessor legislation have changed over time, so it's not just enough anymore to prove that there's merit. The industrial relations tribunal in Australia has always been guided by equity, good conscience and the merits of the case, but now we find that there are additional requirements laid on top of that. The variation met the modern award objective, but it was unable to meet the requirement for necessity, which is imposed by the Fair Work Act, and we say that that's an unreasonably onerous bar to impose. The purpose of the safety net is that it's fair and relevant and that it responds to the real issues people are facing in their workplaces. We say the rules are too hard. If you read that case, the evidence was put forward and the propositions we sought to establish were established, but the Fair Work Commission was not in a position to make the decision. In any event, we're not talking about the Fair Work Commission; we're talking about the government.

This is a policy reform with substantial evidence supporting it. Employers are already paying for this. Violence against women costs $22 billion per year, with $1.3 billion in lost productivity due to absenteeism and the cost of replacing employees through injury or death as a result of this scourge. Employers are already paying for this. The parameters around the clause are tight. Being subjected to family and domestic violence is not enough; you have to prove that you have a need to attend an appointment related to that experience and that you're unable to deal with that during working hours. The parameters around accessing this leave are tight and reasonable. I would also make the point that not all employers oppose this. The peak bodies have a concern about it and they opposed our application in the case, but a large and growing number of Australian employers, big and small, are already providing this entitlement to their workforce and the sky's not falling. What it's doing is keeping people safe and reducing the cost of violence against women, and it's an all-round positive reform.

Ms White : If I could add to that: our experience in bargaining is that employers have welcomed this. In fact, they were probably ahead of the Fair Work Commission in its determination. Not only employers but employees have welcomed paid leave. I bargained at Qantas for seven agreements, and Qantas would not be regarded as an easy employer to deal with. Qantas finally agreed, after three attempts, to put paid domestic violence and family violence leave in their enterprise agreements not just for ASU members but for everyone, and it was greeted by acclamation by our hardened bargaining team when they announced it. On the floor at Qantas, when we announced it to our members as part of the deal that we had struck, exactly the same reaction came. When you look at the number of people who are covered by enterprise agreements, the tide has changed. The Fair Work Commission and the law are behind the times. This is a unique opportunity for the parliament to test the pulse of the nation. Paid domestic violence leave is not going to bring down the world. Surf Coast, one of the smallest councils in Victoria, introduced it in 2010—it was the first place in the world to do that—at the behest of ASU members and delegates. They continue to increase their entitlements and to provide it and the world has not fallen in, nor has it for Qantas nor any of the other organisations that I've personally been involved in.

CHAIR: As you say, there's nothing stopping individual work sites having a more extensive arrangement than the safety net.

Ms White : Sure, but isn't it time that the law and the parliament caught up with the community? That everybody has that opportunity, that you don't have to bargain—not everybody bargains. What I would say to you is that the acclamation and the acceptance in the community is ahead of what is being proposed today. Ten days paid leave is not an outrageous thing when you talk to people on the street about it.

Ms Lang : A large proportion of our membership work in the community sector, and the community sector is reliant on government funding, so that's their source of income to operate their organisations. It was evidenced in our successful equal pay case that more than 90 per cent of the workers in the community sector are not covered by enterprise agreements because of the structural impediments to bargaining in a government funded industry. For those workers there is also a significant impediment to being able to achieve appropriate paid family violence leave because of those impediments to bargaining. The point of the safety net is to meet the needs of the workers and certainly the most vulnerable workers. A large proportion of our membership are completely reliant on the safety net, being the award and the National Employment Standards. This is the way that 90 per cent of those workers would be able to access a lifesaving entitlement.

CHAIR: There were a couple of things in the Fair Work Commission's determination. It stated:

… we are not satisfied, at this time, that it is necessary to provide ten days paid family and domestic violence leave to all employees covered by modern awards.

It went on to say that the ACTU had not provided a satisfactory explanation as to how it arrived at 10 days and the evidence does not support a finding that 10 days paid leave is necessary. Would you care to comment on that?

Ms Ismail : Yes. I have already mentioned the requirement of necessity, which we think is unnecessary and onerous. We think making out a case that it is desirable and supported by the evidence should be enough, and we got over that bar. The commission was not satisfied that we met the necessity test. We think it shouldn't need to jump over that bar.

CHAIR: What about the 10 days issue?

Ms Ismail : At the time we ran this case, as I mentioned, there was not a lot of evidence about uptake rates. There simply wasn't the evidence available. It is a relatively new entitlement and the evidence that we had suggested that uptake rates, in terms of the number of people who would access it, were low and there was a little bit of evidence around the number of days that would be accessed. It's not fair to say that that indicated that people would take only two or three days. There was evidence that people would take more than that—at least five or maybe more. The reality was that we didn't have the evidence available at the time of the case, but we do have that evidence now and it's clear that five days unpaid leave is woefully inadequate and falls well below what is required.

CHAIR: When this issue is reviewed—I think it's in 2020-21—

Ms Ismail : That's right.

CHAIR: I assume the ACTU would participate in that review.

Ms Ismail : We hope, Senator, that by 2020-21 we will have 10 days paid leave as part of the safety net and we won't need to revisit this issue.

Ms Lang : In the ASU's submission we detail very clearly the undertakings that are required in leaving violence. That's not a list somebody put together by saying, 'Let's make a shopping list'; that is from the direct experience of our members who work in the frontline services. They detailed for us the amount of time that they need to spend with people, generally women, who are coming through the services needing their assistance to be able to escape violence. We have then put together tracking of what it would take for a single woman to leave violence—'single' being a person, not a judgement about her family situation.

The other piece that is very important for the case of why we need at least 10 days is the work that Dr Stanford put together in his review. That's the paper that Sophie mentioned we would like to hand up—Economic aspects of paid domestic violence leave provisions. He has conducted a very thorough analysis of organisations that do currently offer family violence leave. It is based on their experience of having had it for some time. He looked at not only public sector uptake rates but also private sector uptake rates and has detailed that the average experience is just under eight days.

Senator WATERS: I want to go to that last point. I missed the beginning of your sentence. Where did you say that that analysis had been put together?

Ms Lang : That's the paper that was prepared by the Australia Institute and Dr Jim Stanford on the economic aspects of paid domestic violence leave. We would like to hand that up today to the committee.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I think I've been emailed a copy of that, but I haven't yet had a chance to read it. Can you give us a comparison of what other countries and other employers do? How common is it to have 10 days paid leave? Is the sky still up there?

Ms Ismail : As I said, I'm not sure if there's a reference in the report, but a number of Australian employers, including the Queensland government, the Western Australian government, the South Australian government and the Victorian government, already provide this leave. The evidence is that the uptake rates of the number of people who are accessing this leave is small and that they are requiring at least five, if not more, days. So, no, certainly the evidence is that implementation costs are manageable and employers themselves, in response to a survey that we submitted in evidence in the case, told us that PwC turned up and said: 'This is not something that's breaking the bank in any way. In fact, what we're finding is that we're retaining valuable employees. In every way, it's a benefit to our organisation.'

Senator WATERS: Was it PwC that had the 5c-a-day per worker figure?

Ms Lang : No, that's The Australia Institute's—

Senator WATERS: Oh, right—that's that same report.

Ms Lang : and it includes very detailed analysis of how it arrived at that costing.

Ms Ismail : There is now a lot more evidence about the uptake rates that we had during the case, and The Australia Institute report reviews all that evidence and makes some conclusions about the cost and, overall, the fact that it is extremely manageable.

Senator WATERS: Hear, hear! Do you think having paid leave, as opposed to the unpaid leave that this bill proposes, would allow more women to get free and stay safe?

Ms Ismail : Yes.

Ms Parker : Yes, I do believe that is the case. One example would be that sometimes women don't even know that they need to take leave. They might say to police that their partner choked them but there's no evidence of any kind of assault, so police are unable to lay charges. We'll see women perhaps a few days or up to a week later, and by that time there's evidence of fingerprint bruising to the back of the skull. The woman is probably unaware that it's there, but we know to look for it. If we see it, then we say to the woman that it's really important that she attends a forensic medical unit to have those injuries documented and, more importantly, to be assessed in case she's acquired a brain injury as a result of that as well. Women will say: 'I can't. I've already had to take today off to be here. I can't take tomorrow off to do that as well.' Women don't want to disclose to their employer that they've experienced domestic violence unless they have to or if there's some benefit to them. Unpaid leave doesn't help them because they need an income to feed their children.

Senator WATERS: There was a very powerful statement that I'll just put to you for anyone to comment on. It was in the ASU submission where, in one of the case studies, a court advocacy worker, much like yourself Ms Parker, said:

Most victims of domestic violence are women. They are more likely to be in part time, casual and low paid work. This means they are less likely to take unpaid leave because they simply can't afford it …

Can you add anything to that?

Ms Parker : The other thing is: we often see women who are vulnerable simply because they might be younger employees and they might not know what their rights are, such as women in traineeships. I spoke with a woman who had a childcare traineeship. Her employer said she would lose her traineeship if she continued to attend court for her AVO matter. There was another woman who had a traineeship as a hairdresser, and she had a very controlling boyfriend. She'd taken a lot of time off work because of the DV and then, in this one case, he detained her and kept her in the home for two days, during which time he sexually assaulted her. She did leave and spoke to police for the first time about that. She believed that, if she provided the police event number to her employers, that would be sufficient, but they told her that they wanted to read the police narrative to determine whether she ought to be allowed to keep her traineeship. She didn't know that she had rights around that.

Senator WATERS: I know we're up against the clock—

CHAIR: This will need to be your last question.

Senator WATERS: so perhaps someone can provide some evidence on notice about that balance between privacy and safety, in particular—this is the second time it's come up today—discrimination against workers on the basis of being subjected to domestic violence, and whether there's any existing legal protections for that? It goes a little bit beyond the purview of the bill, but it's something that I'm interested in. I don't think it's a protected matter under our discrimination laws.

Ms Ismail : It's not currently, no.

Senator WATERS: It sounds like it should be. Can anyone can send me any information to read on that point and perhaps any reform suggestions?

Ms Ismail : I can. Just on the economic and security issue, the evidence is clear: the primary factor determining whether someone stays in or leaves a violent relationship is their access to money. What we're doing by denying Australian workers this entitlement is forcing them to choose between their pay cheque and their safety, and that's an unacceptable choice. Sam has, no doubt, many examples of women having to choose between putting food on the table and escaping a relationship. Unpaid leave goes some of the way, but we know how important economic resources are for people who are trying to recover and escape from these situations.

CHAIR: We will need to leave it there. Thank you all very much for your time today.

Senator WATERS: Thanks, everyone.