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NUPGE releases international comparison of workplace protections for victims of domestic violence

The report highlights existing gaps, as well as, best practices that may provide lessons for the Canadian context.

Ottawa (23 Sept. 2020) — The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is releasing a new report entitled, Domestic Violence and the Workplace: How Non-Canadian Jurisdictions Have Implemented Workplace Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence.

Building on past work by NUPGE on domestic violence and the workplace in Canada, the report surveys and provides critical commentary on various protections that have been used elsewhere around the world. In doing so, the report highlights existing gaps, as well as, best practices that may provide lessons for the Canadian context.

This report was prepared for NUPGE by Emily McBain-Ashfield.

The importance of dedicated, paid leave

The report focuses on job-protected leave, as it is a widely used tool for supporting workers experiencing domestic violence (DV). It analyzes the arrangements in different countries by a number of characteristics, including whether the leave is paid or unpaid, the length of leave, the type of leave, eligibility, evidentiary requirements, and implementation.

The analysis underscores the importance of leave being paid, as advocates have argued here in Canada. Leave should also be dedicated to situations of DV, not lumped in with other types of leave, such as sick leave. Issues with implementation in some jurisdictions suggest the need for governments and employers to make sure that workers are aware of the supports that exist.

The report also highlights some interesting approaches, such as in Italy, where paid leave can be taken flexibly over 3 years and is based on maternity-leave principles, meaning the individual receives full pay, social security, and vacation while on DV leave.

Complementary workplace, social protections are a must

While important, leave is not sufficient for addressing the issue. The paper outlines the value of additional complementary measures, including:

  • Access to flexible work arrangements
  • Anti-discrimination provisions
  • Workplace gender-equality strategies
  • Protection measures for workers’ physical safety while at work

International experiences echo those in Canada in that austerity and service cuts have a negative impact on people experiencing domestic violence. This serves as a reminder that we can’t look at domestic violence at work in a silo, and we must maintain our calls for proper funding for shelters and transition houses, as well as affordable housing, legal assistance, child care, income supports, mental health services, and prevention.

The role of collective bargaining

Unions play an important role in advocating for employment protection and rights for victims of DV — in Canada and internationally — including through collective bargaining.

The report points to a DV clause developed by unions in Australia that has become widespread, featured in over 2,000 collective agreements by 2016.

The report’s analysis shows that collective bargaining can play an enormously important role in expanding the rights and protections of workers experiencing DV, especially when supported by strong legislative frameworks that provide minimum standards.

International frameworks provide guidance

Finally, the paper surveys frameworks and agreements at the international level, including the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Violence and Harassment (No. 190), which can provide countries with a roadmap for action.

NUPGE has called on the Canadian government to ratify the Convention and implement its recommendations.

Canada has work to do

It is significant that every province in Canada has legislated some amount of DV leave, a result of the hard-fought work of activists. Still, the international comparison shows that Canada still has a long way to go to support victims of DV, reduce harm in the workplace and outside of it, and prevent future violence. The analysis and best practices outlined in this paper can help to inform those efforts.

NUPGE will be submitting the report to provincial and federal government officials, along with a set of recommendations. The recommendations can be found at the end of the report.