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Domestic violence is a trade union issue

25 November, 2020Domestic violence has increased during the pandemic, exacerbated by lockdowns and economic pressure. The new ILO Convention 190 is a key instrument, stressing that “governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations and labour market institutions can help, as part of other measures, to recognize, respond to and address the impacts of domestic violence”.

The inclusion of provisions regarding domestic violence in ILO C 190 and Recommendation No. 206 (R 206) reflects a fundamental change from being considered a private issue to now being acknowledged as having consequences for workers, companies and society at large.

Domestic violence can spill over into the world of work; perpetrators may follow victims to their workplaces or use their victim’s professional computer, emails or phone to harass and control them. The stress and trauma of domestic violence impacts the victim’s work.
But workplaces can be safe spaces where victims can seek support and protection, and protect their financial independence.

The ILO states:

Employers and co-workers can save lives by providing a place of safety and solidarity, serving as a nexus to community services, and also identifying cases of violence.

ILO R206 calls for awareness-raising about the effects of domestic violence; the provision of leave, flexible work arrangements, protection against dismissal for victims/survivors of domestic violence; and the inclusion of domestic violence in workplace risk assessments and occupational health and safety policies.

“Trade unions have an important role to play. Their members can be both victims of domestic violence as well as perpetrators. Trade unions can demand that employers provide safe workplaces for victims, as well as show solidarity to their members who are facing domestic violence by taking a strong stand against gender inequality and educating their membership on the need for trade union action against domestic violence,”

says Jenny Holdcroft, IndustriALL assistant general secretary.

NUM in South Africa launched a campaign in 2018, condemning all forms of violence against women. Awareness raising campaigns create a conducive environment that encourages victims to speak out and bystanders to take action.

In Canada, USW launched the programme: Be More Than a Bystander - Break the Silence on Violence Against Women, engaging their male members to speak up against abuse and violence and to intercede if they witness it.

Several IndustriALL affiliates have achieved paid leave provisions in law. In the Philippines and New Zealand, the law provides ten days paid leave for victims/survivors of domestic violence, in Australia it is five days of unpaid leave. In Canada, workers in federally regulated workplaces can have five days of paid domestic violence leave and all provinces have a law that gives leave (paid and unpaid).

IndustriALL affiliates have been informing their members about available domestic violence support. During the Covid-19 crisis, Uruguayan unions have been sharing a hotline number on social media.

Trade unions have developed guidelines and procedures on how to identify victims/survivors of domestic violence and support them effectively. The TUC, UK, have put together a guide for shop stewards on how to engage with domestic violence victims/survivors during Covid-19. 

Some trade unions have been training their own contact points to support victims/survivors. In Canada, UNIFOR’s women advocate programme trains workplace representatives who assist women with workplace harassment, domestic violence and abuse.

IndustriALL affiliates have put together guides for negotiators on domestic violence; Unite the Union’s Domestic Violence & Abuse – a negotiators guide; USW’s Bargaining guide on how to address domestic violence in collective agreements, providing model clauses for CBAs.

Protective measures can include enabling victims of domestic violence to adapt their work schedules, use pseudonyms, and have flexible working hours, allowing them to make the necessary changes to protect themselves from abusers who exploit knowledge of their working hours and location.

Dedicated leave for victims/survivors of domestic violence is key, as this enables victims/survivors to deal with any legal proceedings as well as to access support, services and remedies. Temporary protection against dismissal for an employee is critical for any worker whose absences or performance are related to domestic violence.

If your union is taking action against domestic violence, please let us know!

Domestic violence is the most pervasive form of gender-based violence. It can be understood as all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim.

Anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence. However, the vast majority of reported cases are committed by men against women.

According to the ILO, domestic violence is an expression of unequal power relations between men and women. In the context of Covid 19, with increased uncertainty impacting individuals and households, women are experiencing more episodes of violence as perpetrators take out their frustrations and try to reassert their control.
These perceptions and norms lead to the acceptance and justification of domestic violence, and to victim-blaming that implies that women deserve it.

There is no justification for domestic violence. Woman’s behaviour is not to blame, it is fully the responsibility of the perpetrator.